Love Suffers Long and Is Kind, Volume III
Chapter 12, Part 1
"Tom!" scolded Mrs Riley. "Straighten your buttons there and when I finish slicin', take these sweets up to 'em in the salon, and be quick about it!"
Tom had been seated, feet up on the table, cleaning under his finger nails with a paring knife. Upon hearing the rustling of the housekeeper's skirts, the young fellow's feet came down and the knife was tossed aside.
"Yes, Mrs Riley," he snapped. After rebuttoning his jacket, he snatched up the hastily arranged salver as he strode past the table.
As the housekeeper of Bramford Hall, Mrs Riley had nothing of which to be proud when it came to either the occupants of the Hall or the condition to which the manor house had sunk. But she tried her best to manage the very small staff with the same efficiency she had seen in place, years before, when her younger self had served the Levant family.
"And finish clearin' the dining room!" she called after him. "What I wouldn't give to be back in the old house, when the Lady was alive," she muttered, making her way to the scullery.
On any given day, below stairs at Bramford Hall was no jollier a quarter of the house than above -- and this afternoon was no exception.
"And you, Alice! See that these dishes are scrubbed clean -- I had to put aside four to make up the table for dinner!" she said, loudly placing cleared dishes on the scullery counter. Raising a finger to the girl, she continued, "I'll be sendin' ya back to your ma with whipped hide instead of coppers if ya don' do better!"
"Yes, Ma'am," Alice sighed. She went back to the washing the silver. There seemed to be no pleasing anyone that day, upstairs or down, in Bramford Hall. The morning had not begun well. Alice had been severely scolded by the lady upstairs. After brushing all the lady's shoes, Alice had arranged them in the wardrobe in a manner that Miss Rosamond had found unsatisfactory. After a colossal rant concerning Alice's incompetence and throwing the shoes about the room, the lady had threatened to have the girl dismissed.
Alice could have borne a beating more easily than to be sent back home without the job. The Tedlow family was connected to Bramford Hall not only by the land they farmed, but by loyalty to the Levant family. No, Alice ...
A terrific clattering brought the girl out of her unpleasant reverie and back to the warm, brackish water of the scullery. Mrs Harvey took care to arrange several dirtied cooking pots and pans on the counter in such a way that they would not collapse and cascade onto the stone floor. "Those are slipp'ry with grease so be careful! I don't want to be findin' dents in me pots!" The cook began wiping her hands on her apron and surveyed Alice up and down. "Perhaps, if Mr. Levant stays a while, I shall take you out of the scullery and teach you to cook -- give you a real occupation!"
"Thank you, Mrs Harvey," Alice said. It was heartening to know that there was someone who did not think her too stupid to learn.
"You do well on them pots and we shall see." Mrs Harvey left the scullery and began lamenting along with Mrs Riley about the fallen state of the Hall and its disreputable occupants. Both had served in the Hall as younger women and often shared fond memories of the family and the sterling reputation that the Hall had inspired.
"All I can say is that Mr. Levant is not worthy of the Hall and if his grandmother could see how he behaves...well, I just know that the old woman would weep!" Mrs Harvey said, pulling on and tying her cloak. "I am mortified to see the condition of that garden -- and the herbs! -- how they were left to go to seed! I am fortunate that I am able to harvest any more than that tenacious mint!" Picking up a small basket, she made for the door to do just that. "Oh, Mrs Riley. I shall be leaving a mite early -- just right after tea is served. There will be a cold supper laid out for you to serve. I must be home to see to my boy's supper." With that announcement, and awaiting no reply, the woman disappeared out the door to her herbs.
The housekeeper stood staring at the closed door. She wondered what Mrs Harvey's great, lumpish son ordinarily did for his supper.
Mrs Riley had been dismayed when the woman had come and interviewed for the position of cook. Not that she wasn't quite talented when it came to using the common ingredients available in the small market available at this spare season of the year, but the woman knew the talent she possessed, and used it excessively to elevate herself far beyond reason.
Mrs Riley had been put off when Mrs Harvey had been offered the position and immediately began stating her conditions of employment. As if the distinction of working at Bramford Hall were not enough, the woman had the presumption to put forth her own terms! Mrs Riley had listened carefully to the terms set forth and had taken a great deal of satisfaction that certainly, when she took them to Mr. Levant, he would reject the terms and Mrs Harvey out of hand. It had been quite a blow when Mr. Levant had only asked if she was a decent cook -- no questions as to Mrs Harvey's character or cleanliness -- and upon hearing the affirmative, hired her!
Mrs Harvey's first term had been concerning her rooming in. She had made it clear that she would cook for Pollard Levant, but she refused to sleep in the same house as he. Consequently, not only did Mrs Harvey leave in the evening just after supper was served, she had begun leaving at any time she chose. She seemed to believe that by stating when she would return, her absence would not be commented upon.
"That woman!" Riley muttered. Just then, Tom came dashing into the kitchen, calling for Alice to help. Flying past the housekeeper, he ran into the scullery. All that was heard next was a loud crash.
Tom stood, with a pile of broken china at his feet and a murderous look on his face. "You stupid, little bi -- "
"Tom! there will be none o' that in this house! What happened," Riley asked, surveying the damage.
"I called to her, but she ignored me and let all that crockery fall to the floor. That's what happened, missus!" He gave the housekeeper a look of pure innocence, then shot the girl one of pure hatred.
Alice stood mutely. Some of what Tom had said was true. He had called to her for help, but he had rushed in so fast and what she had seen of the china, it had been pile, not to be safely carried, but was all askew and more like a child's tower of blocks. She had had no time to help save it from crashing to the floor. She dropped to the floor and looked to Mrs Riley, hoping that the woman would try to understand.
Riley narrowed her eyes at Tom. "You had no business runnin' in the house and you had no business treatin' the Master's things this way. Help Alice clear this mess away! I warn you Tom, no more of these pranks or else!" The housekeeper turned and left the scullery.
As the two picked up the broken china, Tom whispered, "Alice, ya shudda taken my part, you know this won't go well for ya now." It was all he said. It was all he needed to say.
After the scullery was set to right, Tom made his way back to the table in the kitchen area. He had no duties unless the bell upstairs was rung.
Mrs Riley brought out a pile of silver that required polishing and shoved a rag and cleaner at the young man. "Here, be useful," was all she said.
After a half-hearted attempt on a dessert spoon, Tom asked, "So what happened to the lady? She was showin' the master her arm when I went in."
"Miss Coucher? She fell on that frayed carpet in her front room and dashed it on the mantel. That lion's head got her." Mrs Riley said, entering the scullery. "Alice here found her and got her into her bed, then came and got me."
Setting his collar to right, Tom asked, "Shouldn't she be restin' herself? If she's hurt and all."
"Ho!" laughed Mrs Riley. "That one -- take to her kip when she can be plaguin' the two gentlemen? Not likely!" She began placing the silver in the chest, examining each piece as she did so. "Once she refused gettin' the doctor, I knew that she was not so damaged. Though she had the cheek to have me cut up her food like a babe."
"But she will have a terrible bruise -- " Alice said as she quit the scullery.
"Aye, she'll bruise all right, but I am sure she can find a way to get quite a lot of sympathy with it." Closing the chest, she tapped the lid, satisfied that everything was in ready for the next meal. "I have told Mr. Levant that the carpets in that room are desperate and need replacin'. It is a sin how this place has fallen. When I was a young woman, Bramford Hall was as near a palace as one could find!"
"When you was a girl, Arthur was still on the thrown !" crowed Tom.
"I think I hear the bell!" The woman turned and glared. "You go upstairs -- now!"
Tom coloured at being called down and dashed from the room.
"And what might I bring you, Rosamond? Brandy or sherry?" Levant asked, holding up both decanters.
"I wonder where Randwick has gone off to ... he seems rather distracted of late."
He eyed her arm as he handed her the glass.
"He is most likely walking in the garden." Taking a drink, Rosamond continued, "Daniel likes the garden." She watched Levant, hoping to nettle him. The only time that Daniel strolled the garden was when he accompanied her.
"Yes, he is quite a natural philosopher, that boy." Levant snorted as he took up a place by the fire. "I think he is most interested in all aspects nature -- flora and fauna."
The room was quiet while each studied the other. They understood one another perfectly.
"So, tell me again how you acquired that wretched bruise."
"It was that girl -- Alice, I think her name is. She was to attend to my shoes, but she left them out and I fell against the mantel. I suppose I should count myself fortunate that I did not fall into the fire." Rosamond rearranged the sofa bolster and her shawl to cover her arm. It was stiff and uncomfortable, but it was the bruise that had bothered her the most. It had bothered her until she had realised how it might be used to her advantage.
"... if the girl is so abominable, I shall see that she is dismissed. There is no need, even in the country for such ineptitude."
"Actually, Pollard, I was thinking that when we leave to back to Town, I might take her with me."
"Take her with you? She's caused you to have a horrid accident! How can you think of taking such a stupid, cloddish creature back to Town?" The puzzlement on Levant's face amused Rosamond. She very much enjoyed confounding him with her little plots and plans.
"While it is true that she caused my accident..." there was no hint of conscience as she again blamed Alice for her injury, "... I find her to be just the sort of girl I have been searching for. She is docile and has no airs -- she makes no attempts to speak back when I ... reprimand her. And, I have found, much to my surprise, that once she has been severely scolded, she does not make the same mistake twice -- and that is very rare -- a girl who learns!"
"I can't for the life of me imagine why you would want some country dullard attending to you. But, if that is what you wish, you had best make the preparations as quickly as possible. Saturday I am expecting a guest who will be bearing a gift from Heaven, as it were. A gift which will put me back in a narrow state of solvency, but a state wide enough to allow me to raise my head in polite society. If all goes as I expect, we will be heading back to Town by Tuesday, at the latest."
Under most circumstances, Rosamond Coucher was not easily discomposed, and especially not by the likes of Pollard Levant. But, this statement did quite a lot to alter her normally dispassionate state.
As she watched him light a cigar, she quickly enumerated how leaving Bramford Hall now would destroy her careful plans. Randwick's appreciation was not cultivated nearly enough to assure his offering her protection when Pollard was eliminated -- she had dallied and taken much too much time in arousing his sympathies. And, if Levant were to receive a goodly sum of money, making a payment of any reasonable size to the Demarest Syndicate would most likely cause Ian Demarest to set aside his plans of a permanent abrogation of Pollard's debt. If her plans were to succeed, she must convince Pollard that staying in the country was much preferred to returning just now to Town.
"Tuesday? At the latest?"
"Yes, I am hoping for Monday," he said, as he came and sat next to her. "But, Tuesday would do just as well. Either way, I shall have you out of this drafty barn and back in your nice snug apartments just in time to rest your weary head on your own downy pillow." He kissed her and implicit in the kiss was the notion that he too would be resting on her downy pillow.
Rosamond drew back and gazed at Pollard for a moment. A plan cemented in her mind and she began. "Wonderful! To be back in Town will certain be a change from this quiet life we have been leading. On the way, might we stop a day or two in Bath?"
Pollard made a face. "Bath? Who of importance goes to Bath any more, and at this time of year?"
"No one goes to Bath any more and certainly not at this time of year! It will be our perfect re-introduction to Town, for I am sure that no one of importance is there either." Leaving Pollard to ponder her statement, Rosamond fussed with her glove, leaving just the proper amount of her bruise exposed and artfully arranged her shawl. Again, leaving her injury on display.
Moving closer to her, Pollard stroked her cheek and said, "My dear, I was not really too concerned about others, I was thinking more of our own comfort." He again came close for a kiss.
With her free hand, Rosamond gently laid her fingers upon his lips. "It is wonderful that our comfort is on your mind. Now that you are coming back into funds, I may begin to redecorate. I will, of course do the bedroom first. There is a fellow I have heard about that does wonders with chantilly and Indian silks. After he is finished, we will be most regally comfortable, I think."
She took pleasure in watching the look upon Pollard's face as comprehension flooded his mind. The look was priceless. "And," she determined she would not dally and lose her opportunity, " ... since I was very limited earlier in the year, I am quite behind in ordering my spring wardrobe. As soon as we arrive back in Town, we must start a round of shopping in order to come back even." With her free hand, she stroked his lapel and fingered his neckcloth. "My poor Pollard, I think we will have to have a few suits made up in the latest styles; your rustication has taken its toll."
At that, Pollard stood and stalked back to the liquor table. Pouring himself a large port, he declared that perhaps leaving Bramford at this time would be a waste -- since there would really be nothing to occupy them upon arrival and that they would be staying for at least a fortnight longer.
With a triumphant smile, Rosamond motioned for him to come and sit by her. After bestowing a promising kiss, she whispered, "Staying here is an excellent idea, Pollard. Whatever makes you happy, makes me happy."
Elizabeth Elliot would have heartily agreed with Rosamond and Levant about Bath: no one of any importance came there during this time of year. Or if they had, they were keeping to their own dwellings today, for it was chilly, dreary, and wet. The company assembled in Sir Walter's drawing room reflected this dullness; no callers had come to brighten and enliven their conversation. Mrs Clay was now recovered enough to be among them, but even she could not suggest a subject which was of interest to anyone.
All in all, a most tiresome waste of time, Elizabeth sighed, as she toyed with her pen. But Miss Elliot's morning had not been entirely useless; she had spent several hours at the desk making entries in her precious book. At last, when all of the persons with whom she had conversed at Lady Dalrymple's were properly recorded and cross-referenced, she sat back and studied the occupants of the room. Her gaze came to rest upon Anne.
Her sister had received a package that morning, a wrapped stack of books. Their father had read the accompanying note aloud. It was from that sailor fellow, and what a very dull sort he was! His letter was most concise and businesslike, hardly the sentiments of a devoted admirer! A little smile of pity came to Elizabeth's lips as she recalled a part of it: ╬Enclosed herewith are several more copies of the anthology, to facilitate our discussion Friday afternoon ...'
Anne had taken the letter and had set it aside without a second glance, which was understandable, considering the contents. But now it lay in her lap; she was studying it most intently. Elizabeth's eyes narrowed. When she thinks no one sees ... how very like Anne! Always secretive. Elizabeth pursed her lips as she closed her book and set it aside. She is so ... unsisterly! If only she were more like ... but no. Elizabeth sighed in resignation. Anne had no interest in the pursuits of a normal woman: of style and fashion, of clever conversation and social manoeuvres. Other sisters shared gossip, and admirers, and ornaments ... but not Anne. She must always have her nose in some soulful book, Elizabeth sighed. Always to herself ... and oh, so dreary!
But she is infinitely preferable to Mary! Elizabeth nearly winced as she thought about her youngest sister, who would be arriving at any moment -- just in time to share their luncheon, as always. She had never seen Mary in company outside Kellynch and Uppercross, but she certainly did not show well in Bath! It seemed that Mary was worsening with time, if such a coarse person could be said to worsen. At least I have nothing to blush for in Anne's public manners!
Elizabeth rose and took a turn about the room, while Anne continued to read her letter. But a little stir arose as Burton entered with a parcel. Sir Walter raised both eyebrows in surprise.
"Another!" He frowned as he read the direction. "And this is for ... bah! I cannot make it out!"
"It is for Miss Anne, sir, brought by special courier."
"I see. Anne, again." Sir Walter dismissed the butler with a careless wave and removed the letter from under the string.
"My goodness, Miss Anne, you are very fortunate this morning," Penelope Clay smiled. "Two in one day!"
"Mmmph. At least the other was somewhat readable." Sir Walter frowned some more, as he held the paper at arm's length in order to see more clearly. He turned it this way and that, and sighed. "Mrs Clay, would you be so kind as to bring my spectacles from the desk?"
Elizabeth shot a triumphant look at Anne. Here was more proof that their father was not succumbing to Mrs Clay's ╬charms,' as Anne supposed. He had ordered her about in a most unflattering way.
But the spectacles did not improve the legibility of the note. "My dearest, most ... Mmm. Cher ... cheru-bic ... friend?" He showed the page to Mrs Clay, who was now seated beside him. "Can that word be ╬cherubic'?"
"It is ... pardon me, but I think it must be ╬cherished,' sir." She gave him a tentative smile. "What is your opinion?"
"My dearest, most ╬cherished' friend, Miss Anne Elliot," he read. "Yes, Mrs Clay, you are quite brilliant. ╬Cherished' it is." He applied himself to the letter once more but presently he gave it up. "What the fellow says next is a mystery to me, Mrs Clay. I wonder if it is even in English."
"Perhaps you should open the parcel, sir. It may give you further clues."
The wrapping was torn away to reveal yet another stack of books, slim green books: Tino Turner's elegantly bound volume of poetry.
"Ah!" Sir Walter crowed. "Yes, that would explain the signature, for this is certainly a ╬T' ... and the rest of it must be ╬Turner.' Very well, it is most unexceptionable, you may have it, Anne. Elizabeth, would you please take this to your sister."
Elizabeth was by no means pleased with the easy way in which she was ordered about, but since she was eager to see the note, she complied without complaint. It was a marvel of fantastical script, with curlicues and flourishes throughout. Her father was right, it was quite illegible.
As Anne struggled to decipher it, Mrs Clay smiled at Sir Walter. "Perhaps Mr. Turner is employing an especially elegant form of copperplate, sir. Do you suppose it will become the fashion? You know so much about the latest trends." And then, most unfortunately, she was beset by a fit of coughing. She buried her face in her handkerchief and suppressed it as best she could.
But Mrs Clay was rescued from having to answer questions about the soundness of her health by the entrance of Mary Musgrove, who came into the drawing room with her usual bustle. All the particulars of her morning were poured out, from the unsuitable nature of their breakfast, to the most excellent maid who had lately begun attending them.
"And I have brought Little Charles, as you requested, Anne. Burton took him downstairs to have a treat with Cook. Although why you should want him is beyond me! The boys have been extremely tiresome of late."
Anne looked up from her task of re-folding both of her letters. She put them in her pocket and replied, "I should think it is hard for them to be shut up inside for so long, Mary. I have some errands to do this afternoon and a call to pay on Mrs Smith." Her eyes met Elizabeth's. "You needn't worry about me going alone. Little Charles shall be my gentleman escort."
"Mrs Smith!" Mary exclaimed. "That invalid you are always running off to see? I hardly think that appropriate, Anne!"
Anne sighed. "As squire, Little Charles will be required to pay all sorts of social calls, Mary," she said quietly. "Mrs Smith is simply weak, she has no infectious illness. And she is invariably cheerful and amusing; Little Charles will like that. It is good for him to learn such duties early, and to see them as pleasant, before he comes to resent them as an intrusion."
And of course, such an answer left Mary with nothing to say. She was greatly relieved when Burton presently entered to announce the serving of the luncheon.
At Mr. Yee's suggestion, Captain Benwick took his noonday meal in the conservatory at Chauntecleer, among the luxuriant foliage of the old butler's precious plants. As he unfolded his napkin, James wondered how much of the expenditure to heat Chauntecleer was used by this glassed-in room. But since he was paying none of it himself, he gave himself over to the enjoyment of lunch in an indoor garden -- in which thrived his blooming gardenia. In fact, Benwick had yet to eat a meal in the formal dining room. A smaller setting was much more to his taste, as he took all of his meals alone. But little did he know that today that was about to change.
Presently there arose noises at the front of the house: the slamming of the main door, the echo of voices in the entry way -- and it sounded as though the speakers were moving toward the conservatory at the back of the house. One voice in particular sounded especially cheerful. James lowered his fork. If he didn't know any better, he would say that voice belonged to ...
"James, old boy!" The youngest of the Benwick brothers thrust his head in at the open doorway.
"What's all this?" he exclaimed in mock surprise, as he came into the room. "My staid and steady brother, having lunch with a bunch of plants? Can't leave the tropics behind, that you must eat in this, mmm, alfresco way?" He grinned and held out his hand. "You see, I am not so hopeless, Jamie!" he added. "I do remember some of that beastly Italian. Comes in mighty handy. Makes me appear to be an educated man!"
"Ben!" James greeted his brother with a warm handshake. "Have you eaten?" he asked, as he placed a second chair at the small table.
"Not a bite since daybreak. Came down on that same confounded mail Dan said you took. Roads were in wretched shape." Ben Benwick sat down with a grateful sigh. "Yee's already asked me; he's bringing another plate. You needn't ring." He leaned back in the chair and smiled broadly. "Devilish good to see you again, James. Once in a year I decide to leave Town, and you choose that very moment to drop in. So, I have come to you!" Ben glanced up at the tall palms above his head and grinned. "I never expected to find you in a tropical paradise! Your natural habitat?"
"I never served long in the Torrid Zone, Ben, and I'm not at all eager to return! Too many mosquitoes, for one thing," James chuckled. "The Mediterranean is much more to my liking. But never mind that, tell me how you've been."
And after Old Mr. Yee brought his meal, Ben related an unvarnished and uproarious account of the Benwicks of London -- which was quite different in flavour than what was related by their gentle brother Daniel two weeks before. Ben went on and on about their eldest brother Milton, and his woes of being a Headmaster at a boys' public school; about his wife Estella, who constantly outran his income; about Dan and his wife Molly, and all their neighbours. He finished with a detailed history of the ups and downs of the shop they owned in Bloomsbury.
James sat back as his brother talked on, and marvelled at the changes time had wrought in his brother. Benjamin had been twelve when their parents and only sister had died. Milton had been sent to University, himself into the Navy, and Dan and Ben into apprenticeships with an abruptness which left the boys reeling. Now at twenty-four, Ben had become a shrewd businessman, without losing any of his boyish charm. The modest mercantile he owned with Daniel appeared to be flourishing, if even half of what he said was true. A natural entrepreneur, Benjamin Benwick had the good fortune to be employed in a career which suited him exactly.
"And I cannot say enough," Ben said, around a bite of stewed beef, "about how surprised I was to find the changes you had made to the storage room! And in such a short time! Dan -- you know how he is, he never takes credit for the things he does do, and they are many -- told me all about it, and how quickly you brought order to that jumble."
"I simply applied an organisational system I learned in the Navy. You know how ╬orderly' I am not," James replied. "Dan was at a loss to find anything in there, but together we soon made short work of it. The thing is, you and he must maintain the order."
"Yea, and neither of are much good at that. I am simply too busy with other things, and ..." Ben took a sip of wine and lapsed into thought. "He tries to have an interest, but his heart is not in what he does. I do not know what to do about that." Daniel was barely one year Ben's senior, but a world apart in nature. "And yet, James, he is greatly loved by our customers, for I do not think a kinder man walks the earth! He'll give away the store the moment my back is turned! But I'm coming to see that he has been very good for business, in his own way. He pays calls on all the neighbours and listens to their troubles -- sincerely, I mean. And he's always taking subscriptions for some charity or other ..."
"Molly is good for business," James smiled. "Put her in charge of that storage room. Let Daniel be the parson he was meant to be."
"Who would have guessed that little Molly would become so capable? And yet, once the children begin to come ..." Ben's face grew serious. "And that's the reason I am here, James. I have a proposition for you -- a business proposition. After all, it is because of you that there still is a Morgan Street Mercantile."
"Ben ... don't."
"If you hadn't given us that money, just at the time you did ..."
"I thought we agreed not to mention it." James shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "I had nothing to spend it on, after Fanny. It was not much, Ben," he muttered. "And with you and Dan practically starving -- and Milton, too -- how could I do anything else? Now, shall we discuss another subject? The weather, perhaps?"
"I do not call three hundred pounds apiece ╬not much.' And we're going to pay you back, Dan and I, once we find that will and get the settlement for this old place." Ben ran his fingers over the ornate handle of the silver table knife beside his plate. "I suppose the money's just about gone, but the sale of the house should bring something. Estella, now -- can you believe it? She's actually talking about buying this place. On Milton's salary!" Ben smiled wryly; he had very little love for his ambitious sister-in-law. "But then, poor Milton would not be able to live here, would he? Humph! He would be allowed to come for the summer months -- and slave away in London the rest of the year while his wife lives here in luxury!"
"Once she comes to know Bath, and learns that this house has not the fashionable address she supposes, she'll be greatly disappointed," James replied. "But we have yet to find that second will. The lawyer who handled the case swears there was no substantial change to it, but it is best not to make plans of any kind, especially those involving money."
"Er, funny you should put it that way. For that's precisely what I've come to do -- to discuss plans." The smile remained on Ben's face, but his expression became more earnest. "James, we ... we'd like to take you on, Daniel and I. Into the business with us, as a part of the mercantile. We need your organisational abilities -- rather badly -- as you saw during your visit! We're planning on expanding, and as the business grows, so will our, er, problem."
Ben's eyes never left his brother's face. "We've been able to buy the building we're in -- Dan said he told you about that when he showed you around." He leaned forward eagerly. "Do you remember that snug little set of rooms on the third floor, which none of us are using right now? You could have those -- and move in as soon as you wish -- now, even! And Bloomsbury's a wonderful location in London, James! You'd be not too far from some excellent libraries and bookstores! It'd suit you down to the ground! Er, except you'd be on the third floor."
As James said nothing, Ben took a hasty sip of wine and added, "I'm talking about a full partnership, mind, share and share alike. And if you are called back to sea, you can leave the business behind without losing anything."
James was silent for a long moment as he searched his mind for a response which would not wound his brother. "I ... I don't know what to say," he stammered, at last. "I thank you both, most sincerely. I would surely take you up on such a generous offer if not for ... well ..."
"Obviously, it is not all that generous if you can turn me down so quickly," Ben muttered.
A blush spread across James' face as he realised that he would need to give a more complete explanation. "I cannot become a shopkeeper, Ben, or ... that is, I would never mind doing so, or living above the store and all that, if it were for my own sake, but ...
Ben's natural instincts were aroused. "But ... what? What are you talking about? Who else has a stake in this?" But as he saw his brother's embarrassed reluctance, Ben's irritation melted away. "Come now, Jamie, you can tell me," he said kindly. "I won't cry rope on you. Where's the hitch?"
"I ... you must swear not to breathe a word to anyone, Ben, I mean it! This is in the strictest confidence." James glanced about the room and lowered his voice. "Your generous offer deserves nothing but the truth from me. The trouble is, you see, I have ... I have met a young woman. A very kind, very lovely young woman."
"James!" Ben smiled widely. "A woman whom you wish to take as wife? That's wonderful! Who is she? Have you had the banns read? When's the wedding?"
"Hold on. It's a little more complicated than that, brother."
"So, nothing's official yet, I take it. Well ..." Ben shrugged good-naturedly. "Once she gets used to the idea, I'm sure she won't mind living in Bloomsbury!"
"She wouldn't mind, but I won't ask it of her. A comfortable little house in the country is what I'd like -- if she'll have me."
"If she'll ... of course she'll have you!" Ben grinned. "A fine captain of the Navy, a man of intelligence and taste? What woman wouldn't have you? Hah! I'd marry you myself ... for the uniform alone! I've always envied you that!"
"I'm only a commander, Ben," James smiled. "I am called ╬captain' merely out of courtesy. And ╬intelligence and taste' are subjectively appraised, with wide variation in the standard."
"Bah! You're too self-effacing. Your rank can change, you'll be promoted someday to ... to admiral!"
"Perhaps, if we have the good fortune to engage in a long and particularly brutal naval war."
Ben refused to be daunted. "So, when do you plan to speak to her father? Say! I know!" He set his wineglass down with a snap. "Why not do it tomorrow? I'll come with you -- and vouch for your sterling character and fine upbringing!"
"Oh, lord," James chuckled. "That I would like to see! Sir Walter and you! Ben, she's ... mmm. You don't understand the predicament I've got myself into."
"What predicament? You're in love -- just look at you! I do believe you're blushing, old boy!"
"Ben, she's the daughter of a baronet."
"The daughter of a ..." The dismay on Ben's face was nearly comical. " Great Heaven, James! You are in the soup! Whatever made you think that you could court a ..."
"I lost my heart Ben, there's nothing more to say. I didn't know who she was when I met her." James lowered his eyes and plucked at his discarded napkin. He spoke to himself as much as to his brother. "I should have suspected it from the beginning -- her sweetness of manner, her fine education, her taste in reading all showed it. Her sister soon set me straight, with a vengeance! And as I knew nothing about the inheritance, I gave it up. But then I saw her again in February and ..."
"What will you do?"
"After the estate is settled, and when I get enough courage, I will present myself to her father -- without you -- and hope for the best. It does not look well; finer men than I have been repulsed by this man."
Ben shook his head sadly. "Lord, what a state. You wouldn't fall in love with anyone of more humble origin ... eh, like Blanche?"
"Ben ... banish that thought!"
"You never should have worn your uniform when you were in Town; she's hopelessly smitten! Keeps asking Dan about you, every time she comes in! He tries to put her off kindly, but you know how he is when it comes to breaking bad news! And she's not one to take ╬no' for an answer, from anyone!"
"I am not persuaded ... even by such fine words of praise," James mumured, with a smile. "I don't believe I'm quite ╬timbered up to her weight,' as the saying goes."
"Nor am I." Ben rotated the stem of his wineglass thoughtfully. "Well, as you say, once the estate is settled, then we shall see." A short silence followed as both brothers lapsed into contemplation. At last, Ben raised his eyes to his brother's face; an idea had begun to occur to him.
"The money's all gone, isn't it? Aunt Agatha's money, I mean. We always thought ..." His words drifted away as he studied the guarded expression which crept onto James' countenance. Ben's eyes widened. "You don't mean to say ..."
He reached across the table and grasped his brother's arm. "James, I know you," he said earnestly. "You'd never court the daughter of a baronet without the wherewithal to support her! And Estella's spending money like a fiend -- and going on and on about buying this monster of a house! And Milton is talking about leaving the school! After working so hard to become Head! I thought he'd run mad -- but perhaps not!"
"Milton is an idiot who cannot hold his tongue," James muttered.
"You're the acting executor; is there money? It's not all gone?"
James gave a great sigh. "Ben, sit down. You don't know the half of it. Where shall I begin?"
Chapter 12, Part 2
"But it's raining!" Little Charles Musgrove halted at the threshold of his grandfather's front door. "Mama won't like it if we go out in the wet," he said, dejectedly. "She says mud is a bomma-nashun."
"It is only a little rain, and I doubt she'll mind that," his aunt replied, as she finished pulling on her gloves. "It often rains in Bath; if we waited for perfect weather we would never go anywhere at all! But there are several umbrellas to choose from, Little Charles. In fact, I ... " She paused; her eyes twinkled at him as she turned an idea over in her mind.
"Come with me, Charles," she decided. "I have one which you will like to use. It is larger than any of the others; we can share it quite easily." And with that, she turned and retraced her steps to the stairway. Little Charles followed eagerly.
"It is no different in appearance than most, at least, that's what you think when first you see it." Anne explained, as she placed her hand on the bannister and began to mount the stairs. "And therein lies the surprise. For have you ever noticed, Charles, that sometimes the way a thing looks on the outside is not what it is underneath?"
Little Charles thought about this as he climbed the stairs. As they reached the upper floor, he brightened. "Like a snail!" he announced.
"Yes, exactly like a ... snail!" his aunt smiled. "But this surprise is rather nicer. At least, I think so. Mmmm, being a boy, you make think differently." She led the way down the hallway and opened the door to her small bedchamber.
"The thing I'm looking for belongs to a friend of mine," she said, as she opened the wardrobe and pushed aside her gowns. "But the friend won't mind if we use it today. Ah, here it is." Anne held Agatha Wrenwyth's flowered umbrella in her hand for a moment and smiled at it, before she handed it to the boy.
"It looks like a plain green umbrella, doesn't it? But wait until you open it. Er, out-of-doors, Charles, if you please."
Anne was about to leave the room when she realised that it would be wise to bring along a few extra handkerchiefs. Little boys usually had need of them for noses, and smudged fingers, and various things. But when she opened her top drawer, she frowned in annoyance.
"Elise, you take too much upon yourself!" she murmured, as she felt a blush mount to her cheeks. For here was Captain Benwick's ruffled handkerchief resting on top of the others -- and she knew she had left it hidden in her desk. Must I lock away everything I own? she grumbled to herself, as she took what she needed.
"Aunt Anne?" Little Charles tugged at her skirt with his free hand. "Are we going now?"
"Yes, dear. I was, ah, looking for something." As there was no time to put the handkerchief into her locked box, Anne carefully rolled it with the others and slid them into her reticule. She closed the drawer and turned to face her ╬gentleman escort.'
"And now, sir, I believe we are ready to depart. To Mrs Smith's first, and then the shops. Shall we?" And hand-in-hand, the pair descended the stair and made their way to the main door.
"Ten thousand pounds!" Ben Benwick repeated, as the door to the tailor's closed behind him. "I still cannot believe it, James! Who would have thought our old Auntie would have such a stockpile stashed ..."
"Ben, will you pipe down," his brother interrupted. "Unless you want to make our business a topic on the gossip circuit, kindly refrain from discussing it here!"
During a break in the weather, the two brothers had decided to take a stroll along Milsom Street. Ben had a professional interest in the layout of some of the more exclusive shops there; they had already visited several. His inquiry at a tailor's had led to a friendly conversation with the owner, and as one thing led to another, James ended up being measured for and then ordering several very fine suits.
"Sorry," Ben grinned. "But the street's deserted. Wretched day to be out." After a moment's pause, he added, "You must admit, Jamie, a sum that big is a bit overwhelming!"
"We have not yet found the will," James reminded him, as they made their way down the street. "Remember that, amongst your daydreams of an overflowing bank account! Which, I might add, was acquired by some very astute investing by ╬our old Auntie.'"
"A thousand pardons, my dear great aunt! No offense meant, and I hope none taken," Ben replied cheerfully. "And the original will's just fine, James! If all else fails, we go by that one, right? We brothers get it all anyway, didn't that solicitor say?"
"You trust the word of a lawyer, do you?" James smiled in spite of himself; his brother's enthusiasm was infectious. "It would be a very good joke on us if she left it all to a friend's pet Pekinese or something."
"Nah, she abominated little dogs; you know that. What I trust is you, brother-dear. You laid down quite a nice sum at the tailor's back there. That convinces me more than anything! You believe it, no matter how many punctilious warnings you toss out. And you see," he added laughingly, "I can lay out the verbiage as well as you and Milton. ╬Punctilious,' I like that one. Say, look at this!" Ben caught his brother's elbow and pulled him aside to peer into a window.
"I did get a bit carried away," James admitted, as he leaned against the casement. "But you're right, I cannot continue to wear my uniform everywhere I go."
"To capture the fortress, you mustn't quibble over the cost of the powder to fire the cannon," Ben grinned. "Your best foot forward to impress the baronet and win the daughter, eh?" He gestured toward the display in the window.
"And what do you think of this snug little shop? Pictures and books and all those expensive gewgaws and trinkets ladies like. You see," Ben explained, " the apothecary next door's moving out next quarter. Molly thinks we should take it on ourselves and open a second shop like this one. I think its a terrific idea -- but that was before I knew Aunt Agatha had left me a whopping nest egg!"
"Like I said before, we haven't found the ..."
"Great Heaven," Ben interrupted, as another thought hit. "Aunt Agatha was perfectly sincere all the time! ╬I suppose you're needing money, boy! How much?' I can just hear her saying it, in that dragony way of hers! Whenever I visited, it was as if I was being grilled in the Inquisition! And it turns out she had the money all along!"
"Certainly she did. She was simply asking if you wanted any," James chuckled. "Could she help it if you were too faint-hearted to humble yourself and admit the truth? And you'd best beware, you're beginning to sound like Estella, you know."
"Hah!" Ben opened the door to the novelties shop and motioned his brother inside. "How long do you think it'll take her to run through ten thousand quid?"
"Three years, tops."
"You're too generous by half, brother-dear. I give her less than two. Er, James?" He turned to find his brother standing just inside the door, staring at a damp umbrella leaning beside it. "James?"
"She's here. She must be. That's my ... she's ... using it," was all the answer his brother was able to give.
"She?" Ben became instantly alert. His eyes roved through the shop. "The daughter of the baronet?" he asked quietly. He turned to follow James' gaze, which was fixed on a young woman looking at a wall filled with pictures. She turned to smile at a young boy beside her; apparently they were discussing the display. "I say ..." Ben whispered softly, as he caught sight of her face. He studied her for a long moment. "She is beautiful ... absolutely beautiful, James. I take back everything. She is a treasure worth the having."
Ben grinned and gave his brother a nudge. "So, introduce me." When he got no answer, he punched James playfully and hissed, "I believe those are paintings of ships they're looking at, Jamie, and you're a man of the Navy! In uniform! The perfect opening! What are you waiting for?"
James eyed Ben warily. How could he explain Anne's shocked surprise when he had thrust himself upon her that first time, at Molland's? He had no desire to cause her to suffer such chagrin again, yet he very much wanted to speak with her.
"Very well," he relented, "but remember your manners. If she chooses not to recognise us, we nod and move on."
"Chooses not to ... bah! Coward!" Ben whispered back and straightened his frock coat. Yet for all his sportive banter, he politely stayed well back as his brother approached the young woman and boy.
"The ... Skidmore, I believe it says, Little Charles," Anne said, as she strained to see the nameplate on the frame. "Although I cannot tell. It is almost too high up for me to read."
"Was that Uncle Richard's ship? Did it fight pirates?"
"I believe I read that it, er, sank ... off the coast of Antigua, several years back," said a voice from behind them. "But, yes, all of His Majesty's ships fight pirates -- of one sort or another."
Anne turned to find Captain Benwick in the aisle behind her; she greeted him with a smile of genuine pleasure. Her eyes widened as she saw the younger fellow who came to stand beside him. He was slightly taller and of a more slender frame, and was quite well dressed. But when he removed his hat, the resemblance between the two was immediately apparent. He had the same curling hair and large, speaking eyes, though both were lighter than Captain Benwick's. And the name! Anne nearly laughed outright as James Benwick presented his brother.
Ben saw her amusement and grinned. "Yes, Miss Elliot, I quite agree. Parents often take cruel liberties when they name their youngest child, and so it is with me. Ben-Benwick I am ... and ever more shall be!"
"But not all the Benwicks are so afflicted," Ben continued, in his friendly way. He was certain that any woman James had chosen would be interested in every detail of their family. "Our eldest brother, Milton Mortimer, has the most dignified name. Milton is the tall and handsome brother. And James Calvin, here -- named for our father's favourite New Testament epistle and theologian -- he's the intellectual brother. And then there's Daniel Joseph, he's the philanthropist brother."
"And I," he gestured to himself," I am Benjamin Luther Augustine Benwick, Miss Elliot, and I am entirely at your service." He gave a little bow.
"And which brother are you?" Anne smiled.
"He's the one with the big mout ..."
"I have all the charm!" Ben interrupted merrily.
"His initials say it all: BLAB," James pointed out.
"Alas, it is all too true," Ben agreed gaily. "But between the four of us, Miss Elliot, we comprise one perfect man!"
"And three very sorry ones," James muttered, "made up from the leftover parts."
"I see," Anne laughed. "And there was never a dull moment in your home."
"No, never!" Ben agreed. "Our poor mother was driven to distraction at times, with so many boys underfoot."
"Er, Miss Elliot?" Ben's manner became more serious, "Speaking of boys, would you mind ... er, may I borrow Master Charles for a bit this afternoon? There are some playthings and baubles in this shop I'd like to have his opinion on, professionally speaking."
And as Anne gave assent, Ben winked at his brother, dropped to one knee and held out his right hand. "Master Charles, I am Mr Benwick and I own a shop like this in London. Tell me, does your mother ever buy you little toys and playthings?"
"My Papa does," Little Charles replied. "Not Mama."
"Good!" He stood and led the boy toward the counter. "I wonder if you might tell me which are the ones you like best. Not the large toys, but the smaller ones, like these, here."
James and Anne watched them go. When the pair reached the counter, they saw Ben deftly hand a calling card to the proprietor, as he said, "Now which one of these would you ask your papa to buy for you -- and tell this man, too, he'd like to know." He and the man exchanged a look, before they began to question Little Charles.
"The master at work," James smiled. "I hope he didn't bowl you over too much, Miss Anne. He can be downright annoying at times.
"No, indeed! I am very grateful to him, for I was feeling a bit melancholy just now." She motioned toward the pictures. "Mary tells us that Captain Wentworth has been called back to sea. Is this true?"
"It is. According to Harville, he received his orders just before the wedding."
Anne fell silent. "Then I suppose it was inevitable," she said at last. "Even if we had been able to ... he would have gone away." She gave a sigh of resignation. "Some things are simply not meant to be."
She raised her eyes to her friend and made herself say, more cheerfully, "Actually, I am terribly relieved to find you today, Captain Benwick. For we have a dreadful development regarding the poetry group!" She drew Mr Turner's letter from her pocket and handed it to him.
"I received this today, with a pile of his books. Tell me, does it seem to you that Mr Turner believes we are to read and discuss only his poetry?"
"My dearest, most cherubic friend, Miss Anne Elliot," James read.
"I believe the word is ╬cherished,' sir." Anne could not help but smile.
James frowned at the page. "Cherished?! That is rather forward of him -- hold on." His eyes began to twinkle. "I, too, received a note from this fellow, during my midday meal. I could not make it out; I set it aside and forgot all about it. Fortunately, I have it with me now." He pulled a folded paper from his waistcoat pocket. "I thought he was accusing me of being a cherub, which has been done before, but if you say the word is ..."
He spread the letter. "Here we are. He begins, My dearest, most, er, cherished companero, Captain Benwick." James shook his head. "Companero! What a fellow he is! Mauling the Spanish again! I was an aficionado at Lady Dalrymple's, you know. I cannot make heads or tails of the rest of it. May I continue reading yours?"
Anne nodded and watched as he, with an occasional raised eyebrow and knowing smile to her, worked his way through the remainder of her letter. One of the most intriguing things about this man was his eyes; at times, she could actually see him thinking. But near the end of the letter, he gave a snort of derision.
"Nymphallic?! What the devil! He likens you to a ..." Captain Benwick grimaced at the page in disgust. "Miss Elliot, were you not a gentlewoman, I would advise that you strike Mr Turner, very hard, when next you see him! For this is not at all a compliment!"
Anne bit her lip and struggled not to laugh. "I wondered about that one."
"I suppose he meant to say you are ╬nymphal' or ╬nymph-like,'" James grumbled, "which is not at all the sort of thing one should say to a lady, in any case! Who wants to be likened to a cold, clammy water-sprite? And what he does call you is particularly inexcusable in one who claims to be such an expert in English expression!"
"Do you ... do you think he betrays a certain ... partiality for me, Captain Benwick? After all, he says I am his ╬dearest, most cherished friend'!"
"Humph!" He looked up at her with a twinkle in his eyes. "Behold me, the ╬cherished companero!' I think not. Miss Carteret appears to occupy that position."
"Thank Heaven," she breathed. "You have relieved my mind of a great weight." She took back her letter and began to fold it. "It is so very awkward when a friend -- or an acquaintance -- begins to take on the behaviour and affections of a lover, don't you think?"
"It ... is?"
"Why, yes. When one falls in love, one feels an attraction almost immediately. That is not the way with common friendship."
"I ... that is how it was for me, with Fanny Harville," he said quietly. "But I suppose there are differing ways in which one comes to realise one is in love with another."
"Perhaps. And of course, a man and woman can learn to care for each other, eventually. But that is not at all the same."
"However," she continued, "we have not solved our problem with Mr Turner and the meeting on Friday." And Anne went on to suggest various ways in which they could limit -- or eliminate -- the discussion of Mr Turner's ╬cherished' verses.
"And I thought that if we begin at two o'clock and ended in precisely one hour -- could you bring us to a conclusion by that time? -- I will have the refreshments served without delay and Mr Turner will be foiled! For we will have concluded the meeting, without having had time to bring up the subject of his poetry."
"Very good! Er, unless he expects us to talk on through our tea ... about him."
"He would be so ill-mannered, wouldn't he?" Anne agreed, with a shake of her head. "And I do not know what we can do to keep people from talking."
James thought for a moment. "What if you played for us? Extemporaneously?"
"Why yes, that would be just the thing!" she said, laughing. "Shall I jump up like a madwoman struck by sudden inspiration, rush headlong to the pianoforte, and begin pounding away on it?"
"Excellent! And afterward, what if I begin spouting Shakespeare, willy-nilly? Like this: ╬Not marble, nor the gilded monuments of princes, shall outlive this powerful rime ...'" he recited. "No, wait a minute, not that one! Turner'll think I'm referring to his rhyme, won't he?"
"Oh dear!" Anne was still chuckling over this when she opened her reticule to put in the letter. A bit of ruffle poked out. She gave a tiny cry of triumph.
"At last! I have remembered!" Anne removed the handkerchief and placed it into her friend's hand with a flourish. "I have been meaning to return this to you, sir, and I do so now, with my most sincere thanks. I did not mean to keep it so long after the wedding."
James stood looking at the square of cloth in his hand for a long moment. His fingers traced his initials, the tiny embroidered flowers, and the ruffled trim. He gave her a quick, penetrating look as he fingered the ruffle.
"Miss Anne, you are a wonder," he said at last. "Today, thanks to you, I have made quite a step-up in the world of fashion. Many gentlemen use these, er, elegantly-appointed hankies, and I do thank you for the, mmmm, flowers and fancy edging."
"Good G-d!" Anne cried, aghast. She had forgotten to remove her ╬embellishments'! Her face flamed as she stammered, "I ... I meant to remove those! They were added ... only so I could have it laundered without ... questions! If you give it back, I shall take them off for you! Right away!"
His brown eyes smiled into hers. "But I like it better this way. You needn't trouble yourself."
"Yes, I do!" she cried desperately, and self-consciously lowered her voice. "And it will be no bother! Truly!"
"But then it will become ordinary again. And it is so much nicer now!"
"The ruffle is mine, from my shif -- er, sewing basket!" she argued. "You must return it!"
"It has been attached to, and made a part of, my property -- so it is now mine," he grinned.
"Give it back!" Anne glanced around the empty shop and wondered whether she should make an unladylike swipe for it.
"Nothing doing," he countered, and correctly guessing her thought, held it just out of her reach.
"Captain Benwick, you are a thoroughly horrid and unmannerly person!" Anne said, through clenched teeth. The wretched thing was, she found it was almost impossible not to smile back at him. She fought to maintain her composure.
"╬Dreadful,' too, don't forget. You called me that at Lady Dalrymple's!
"I was being kind, for we were then in company!" she grumbled. "You are the ... the greatest beast in nature!"
"Yes, ma'am," he said meekly. "But may not this sad beast keep his poor little hanky? Please?" He lowered his voice. "You know how much I like pink flowers."
This drew a reluctant laugh out of Anne. "Oh, very well, keep it if you must!" she relented. To fight for it was both unladylike and undignified, and besides, he was being impossible.
All at once, she recollected the lateness of the hour and hastened to collect Little Charles from his perch at the counter. Within a very short time, the two of them were out on the wet street, headed for Camden Place. Anne grimly held the umbrella; it was raining and she had forgotten to return it to its owner ... again. Little Charles' hands were full of gifts: a tin of wrapped candies from the proprietor of the shop and a wooden horse from Mr Benjamin Benwick.
"An' Mister Benwick said I was a prime gun, to tell all about the toys I like," Little Charles crowed. He had obviously had a marvellous afternoon. "He asked about my favourite colors -- an' which toy I would ask Papa for first -- an' if I would want it even more if the horse was kept on the counter where I could see it every time I came in the shop ..."
Anne marched beside him silently; she hardly heard as the boy rattled on about his new friend. Her mind was filled with the other Benwick brother, the dreadful one with the smiling brown eyes.
He must think me a complete idiot! she thought, as colour once again flooded her cheeks. How could I forget such a simple thing, to remove that ruffle! Now he has it! And it is ...oh! It is from my shift! She ground her teeth in shame. I hope he does not suspect! He cannot! No, there is no reason why he should! But when she remembered the look he had given her as he stroked the handkerchief, Anne was no longer so sure.
With care and consideration, Rosamond arranged herself upon the stone bench in the west corner of the garden. Occasionally, a breeze gusted and caused the leaves of the boxwood hedge to rattle. The setting sun tinted the scattered clouds pink as it faded from view. The clock had struck the hour as she passed through the salon's French doors. Soon, tea would be offered. This assured her being searched out by Randwick. She adjusted her gloves and pulled her light cloak closer, and waited.
As she waited, she took pleasure in the remembrance of her earlier manoeuvreing of Pollard Levant. It had been frightfully simple. His mind, so set upon a return to London, had rapidly changed when faced with the proposition of the wonderful opportunities to spend some of his anticipated funds. It was a small triumph, but owing to her isolation while in the rustic environs of Crown Hill, she found it necessary to savour each diversion, no matter how small or trivial.
The approaching evening had cooled the breeze. Just as Rosamond scanned the garden and prepared to seek out a more sheltered spot, she heard a door open. Pinching her cheeks and disarranging her hair just a touch, she prepared to be found.
"Miss Rosamond? Miss Rosamond." Randwick's young tenor carried along the light gusts. It pleased her greatly to hear the concern with which it was tinged.
Pulling a handkerchief from the bosom of her dress, she tossed open the cloak and called, plaintively, "I am here ... Daniel."
In the past, Rosamond had used the boy's Christian name in a playful, teazing manner, never seriously. But now, all things concerning Daniel Randwick were to be taken quite seriously.
"Miss Rosamond ... tea is served. Are you to join me?" he asked, expectantly. Randwick stood looking first at the bench and then to Rosamond. If an invitation to sit were dependent upon his expression of longing, Daniel would be placing himself next to her very shortly.
She too looked at the bench. Then, raising her eyes to meet his, she held his gaze. For a moment, Rosamond was disappointed. The task before her was again, pathetically simple. A puppy-ish boy like Randwick was so easily manipulated, especially when everything about him cried of his slavish devotion to her. But, it was this slavish devotion she was depending upon.
With a wave of her hand, Rosamond invited Daniel to be seated. She nearly laughed. They were the only ones in the garden and he had no competition for the seat. But, in his haste, Daniel looked comically awkward. In his rush, he practically threw himself next to her. As he settled down, he ever so slightly nudged her bruised arm. Rosamond decided to take the advantage, and begin deepening his devotion.
"Ah-h-h ... " Rosamond moaned. Her cloak being open, and her arm exposed, she cringed and protectively covered her injury.
"Good lord -- I am sorry -- I forgot -- !" he cried. Randwick stood quickly and reached towards her and as quickly pulled back, uncertain whether he might do further harm. His mien was genuine sympathy.
"Oh, it is nothing. Please ... sit." With her other hand, she patted the spot he had vacated. "I am not so delicate that I will shatter at a little discomfort." As she said this, she shuddered from the chill of the breeze.
With no hesitation, Daniel removed his coat and gently placed it about Rosamond's shoulders. He took great pains to avoid her bruised arm. With exaggerated care, he retook his seat. The couple sat quietly. She studied the garden while he studied her.
Daniel cleared his throat. "The garden is coming to life, I think. There are a few violas sprouting in the lawn -- over there," and he pointed.
"Yes," said Rosamond. "But this poor garden has been sorely neglected and unless Pollard is willing to spend the time -- and the money -- it will never obtain its former glory."
"True, but it seems that he is willing to stay for a while longer. He just told me that we will be here at least another fortnight."
"A-another fortnight?" she stammered. "He told you that?"
"Yes -- just now. I thought it strange, he has always spoken as though he were quite anxious to return to Town. And while he did not seem overly pleased by the announcement, he is taking it with good grace."
It was now time. Rosamond turned to face Randwick. "Pollard had not told me of his plans, I was not aware of our staying." She shifted and grimaced, clutching her arm. "If we are to stay another fortnight, I feel that I must be honest with you -- Daniel."
He, again, brightened at her intimate address of him. "Certainly, Miss Rosamond, you may always be honest with me."
"A faint smile came to her lips and she averted her gaze slightly. "Please, when we are alone, as we are now," she said as she raised her eyes to fully meet his. "Might we be more, familiar? By now, we are more than acquaintances, dare I hope to name us -- friends?"
Daniel was speechless, and Rosamond again took her advantage.
"And friends are much less formal in their address of one another, are they not?" She moved herself slightly. Closer to him. "Would it be well if, only if you would like it, I were to call you 'Daniel' and you call me 'Rosamond'?"
"Y-yes-s, I would like that very much, Miss -- I mean, R-Rosamond."
As she watched the expression on his face, Rosamond rested her hand upon his lapel. Though her gloves were thick and his suit and waistcoat, worsted wool, she felt his breaths come more quickly.
"But we must only do so when we are alone." Her eyes roved his face. "You see that, don't you?"
Daniel scowled for a moment and then a knowing look came over him. "Oh! You mean Pollard? Yes, yes I see."
"I think," she said, "it will be I who must be the most careful of us. I would not wish him to see ... "
"To see? To see what?"
Rosamond bit her lip. She turned slightly, "I would not wish him to see my growing ... fondness for you. He is exceedingly jealous you know." She turned back and awaited a comment.
"I know ... I have seen him so." His expression was an enigma.
She had expected wonderment at her declaring a fondness for him, but there was none in evidence. She puzzled for a moment, but persisted. "I ... must be ... alert, he might do anything ... hurt anyone who crosses him." She looked down at her arm, hoping the boy might conclude ...
"Did he do that to you?" He gently stroked her wrist with his fingertips.
Satisfied that she had planted her seed, Rosamond looked away.
She felt him move closer to her. He touched her hair. "I would never harm you, Miss ... I mean, Rosamond."
There was an odd quality to his voice and when she turned back, she was surprised to find him closer than she reckoned. And he was rapidly moving nearer. Knowing what he desired, Rosamond closed her eyes, steeling herself for the onslaught. She could hear the ragged quality to Randwick's breath and feel it, warm on her cheek. Their lips met.
The moment they touched, she was startled by the passion that swelled within her. It was immediately clear that his was not the kiss of a nervous, inexperienced young man, but the kiss of a lover, one skilled and very practiced. The kiss went on for she knew not how long, but for its entirety, Rosamond was lost in him and his arms.
For an instant, she had a notion to take control from him, but it suddenly seemed an eternity since she had been with a man who knew how to please her ...
He drew back. The smiling face she now looked upon was not that of a boy on the edge of manhood, but a man quite satisfied with himself. "I am delighted to see that I did not cause you any discomfort."
"What? Discomfort?" The face, the smile and a previously unknown bearing of assurance and self-confidence, all made for an unsettling feeling. And, to her mortification, for the first time in years, she was so discomposed, she knew not where to place her hands.
He pointed. "Your arm. It seems to have weathered our 'embrace'."
Rosamond glanced at her arm and back at him. "Yes, as I said, I will not shatter." Putting aside the kiss, she asked, "Who are you?"
"Daniel. Your, more than an acquaintance -- familiar friend -- Daniel Randwick." He smiled. The chase was on and both were aware of the fact. This woman was no fool and now that she had composed herself, she would be back to her clever and unperturbable self.
"You may be Daniel Randwick, but you are certainly not the naive, doltish young man we have been entertaining all these evenings."
Clutching at his heart, Daniel said, "Oh, you wound me, ma'am." He straightened his waistcoat. "I had merely been trying for clumsy -- awkward and halting -- not stupid."
"You are a fine actor -- you accomplished both."
"No, obviously not fine enough. I hate that you thought me doltish." He gave her a exaggerated frown. "But, coming from you, that is a compliment of the highest order. I have rarely seen such a skilled and consistent performance from any actress. Your talents, no doubt, are what makes Pollard believe that you are blindly devoted to him -- and completely satisfied by him."
"Satisfied?" Rosamond slapped the young man.
Rubbing his jaw, he said, "Well done, I deserved that." He continued to rub his sore jaw, but his voice became serious. "But, your ... master, he does believe it to be the truth."
For an instant, neither was certain that she would not again slap him. "Mere belief does not determine the truth," she said with decision.
"True." He moved closer. "And the woman I kissed is not satisfied -- is she? Be truthful now."
Rosamond looked away.
She turned to glare.
"Now, don't be priggish. No woman -- no matter her reasons for attaching herself -- could be satisfied by anything about that buffoon." He reached for her and pulled her close. "Manoeuvreing me, playing me off Pollard when it suited, and now, trying to make me think that he had caused your injury." He gently took her arm in his hand. "Encouraging me to step into his shoes was the reason for all of this fawning, was it not?" Without asking leave, he kissed her again.
She allowed the kiss, and while not put off in the least, she was not shaken nearly as deeply as with the last. When they parted, she straightened herself and said, "Go on, I am in great anticipation of the rest of your tale."
He admired her ability to keep composed. "I came here with my own motives concerning Pollard." Reaching up, he replaced the shoulder of his greatcoat which had slipped off her shoulder. "I encouraged his 'association'. It was not difficult to take advantage of his pressing need of financial resources. I have given him dribs and drabs to tide him over." Daniel crossed his legs. "Actually, they were just gobbets of fat to keep the cur quiet as I worked things 'round my way."
She studied him. "And your way would be?"
"Through a bit of freakish country whimsy, the Levant holdings cover two seats in Parliament. The Randwick family -- my family -- is quietly cultivating the good-will of seat-holders in this and the surrounding districts. I had thought to oblige Pollard to myself with an open purse, and therefore his seats, but now that you have stepped in and set the Demarests in motion, my plans have changed -- but only slightly."
A knot was forming in Rosamond's stomach. A knot comprised of equal parts fear and anticipation concerning this new Daniel Randwick. She thrilled to realise he was much more than he had let on, and, if what he said was true, he was also connected in ways that she had not dreamed.
"How have I changed your plans?"
"You have not imparted the message that you were sent to deliver." His voice was flat and cold. His eyes held hers.
She pulled the coat closer. "Message?" She looked down to smooth her dress. "Was I sent to deliver a message?"
Flashing a sudden smile, he exclaimed, "Yes, you were, pet!" He reached over and caressed her cheek. "I know that you have not delivered it because a man like Pollard, when faced with paying off or being killed, only knows to do one thing." He smiled, brought her face level with his, and lowered his voice. "Run!"
Rosamond tried to suppress a smile. "You know him very well."
"Yes, I do."
"How do you know about the Demarest's ... 'message'?"
"Rosamond, the Demarests are a very far-thinking family. There are changes coming to Albion and the Demarests are taking it upon themselves to be a part of those changes. These are changes that you may not fully understand, but, in time, will not only understand, but embrace." The expression on his face and the timbre of his voice, charged the air.
"So, they are gambling on what?" She examined her gloves as she spoke. "Perhaps they wish to lead the parade as Napoleon marches on London?"
The tension was broken and Daniel laughed heartily. "No, my dear. Nappy is not much a concern. And, neither is gambling -- though it has proven to be a very convenient cover.." He moved closer. "Rosamond, let us be quite frank with one another. You are prepared to allow the Demarests to ... "
" ... to do away with Pollard. And you think me unconscionable ... "
He interrupted. "No, not unconscionable." He reached up and moved a curl from her forehead. "For one so beautiful, you are a bit more ... brutal than I am used to, but I am a practical man." All the while he spoke, he held her gaze.
His nonchalance shocked even her. He had spoken as though they conversed about a common household matter, not the life of a man. Daniel stood and pulled some shrivelled leaves from the oak covering them. "I have achieved quite a lot in my life ... come quite a long way, you might say ... " he turned towards her, "I think you could help me to achieve even more."
"And how might that be?"
Crushing the leaves, he slowly sprinkled the pieces into the breeze. "A woman like you would be a boon to a man like me -- beautiful, intelligent and ... amoral."
She came and stood next to him, taking her own leaf and crushing it in the same fashion. "Amoral. Is that what you mean by -- practical?"
He took her hand and pulled her behind a large, ancient planting of yews. "You and I, Rosamond, are cut from the same cloth, we want the same things, I think. There is no law higher than what a man can achieve, notions of propriety and morality be d*amned. The likes of Levant have had their time -- the changes coming make everything possible for a man like me," he added, "with your help."
Again, the air was charged.
"In these parts, our fine tillers of the earth know that a horse can far outstrip a man when it comes to pulling a load." Brushing his hands together, he rid himself of the leaves' powdery residue. "They also know that two horses, harnessed in tandem can easily treble, even quadruple the strength of that one horse." He fingered the lapel of his greatcoat. " Do you see my meaning?"
"Yes, I see. And what makes you any different than my last 'ploughmate'?" She took his hands and guided them around her waist.
"You are a cool one, are you not? The old ploughmate is not even to the knacker's yard, and you are already sizing up the new. Well, as I said, I am a -- practical man." He pulled her close. As he moved to take a kiss, he stopped. "Are not the differences between he and I very obvious?"
"Yes, they certainly are." As she put her arms around his neck, his coat slid to a heap on the ground. "But I find I need a bit more ... persuasion."
"Oh, I think that may be arranged," he said, smiling.
Quotation: William Shakespeare, Sonnet LV
" ... and so, how could I refuse him? I put away my pride and accepted as graciously as possible."
Catherine sat before her mirror. She stopped, mid-stroke as she brushed her hair. Her husband had just told her of his brother's generosity. Though he had stopped short of telling her about his dealings with Pollard Levant.
"But, it is so much -- why?" She watched his reflection in the mirror.
"I have no idea, but he was quite determined that I should accept it, no matter the amount. All he would say was that he wished it so." The Rector had not yet risen and was laying with his head resting upon his arms. "And there is another, altogether different account. It is half again as much as what he gave me outright. There is a disturbing codicil to that one -- our receiving it is contingent upon his death." The words came low in tone, flat and devoid of emotion. His brother's death, always a possibility, was made more grim, now that profit was to be had by it.
"Common enough." She tallied the figures as she completed the downward stroke. After counting twice, Catherine swung about as well as her ungainly condition would allow. "Edward, that is over ten thousand pounds! What of his wife?" Her hairbrush again, mid-stroke.
"He assures me that he has seen to her most generously -- and to others as well. I have no reason to question him. Only he knows his true worth and how he wishes it dispersed. And, he of all men knows where his duties lie. He is the last I would ever think would shirk responsibilities."
"Of course, I meant no slight." She turned back to the mirror and set about putting up her hair. Through hairpins, she said, "I knew he was well-to-do, you had said as much, but this ... to be giving you so much outright..."
"Yes, well, I was shocked, to be sure, but there was nothing in him that made me think he was anything but happy to do it. I have to say, this gift relieves me greatly."
"I am sure it does. The harvest was unexceptional at best and the tithes have reflected that I think. This should free you from any anxiety owing to them," she said, as she wrestled a stubborn curl into submission.
"Yes, certainly about the tithes, but in other ways, also." He sat up and swung his feet to the floor. "I know it will sound impious, but no man likes being dependent upon others' obedience or generosity or ... spiritual coercion in some cases," he said. He thought about the poorest of his flock who were, for all those reasons, the bulwark of the parish support. "It is hard to be dependent for your meat and drink," he said, noting the worn spot on the carpet. " ... and that of your family."
He watched Catherine. Her face unconcerned as she busily fussed with her cap. He felt guilty. She had come from a good, well-to-do family and yet, in marrying him, she had doomed herself to such dependence.
Having secured the last of the pins, Catherine leant heavily upon the dressing table and stood. Moving from behind the bench, she turned and came to him. She took his hands and said, quietly, "It is hard. And I have watched you struggle, but," she patted his shoulder, "when you took your orders, you chose to depend upon God and this is His chosen vehicle." She smiled, knowing that his mood would soon pass. There were other, deeper sadnesses assigned to this day; not their feeble mewling over money.
Edward nodded. "I know. But I cannot help feeling free." He tried to pull her to his lap. "I have not been so unencumbered nor rich since my return from the Indies." She resisted. "And I think it will make all the difference in the world. I will be free to stay or go as I please."
Looking with intensity at her husband, Catherine dropped onto his lap. "Now that you have this money, you wish to leave here?"
A smile broke over his face, "No! I love this parish ... and these people! I just mean --" he rested his head against her, "a man in my position -- in the middle as I am, has very few supporters. I mean supporters that can truly sympathise with, and uphold him. Most of the sheep need the Shepherd to be strong and aid them, and those above ... they prefer that I stay silent and out of sight -- never saying anything about their ravaging the flock or their wickedness ... "
Catherine scowled, confused. "I understand perfectly about those of the flock, but those above -- you have always said that Bishop Hardy was one of the finest men of your acquaintance! And now you speak of ravaging and wickedness -- "
"I meant nothing about Hardy, love!" He kept to himself that he meant Pollard Levant in particular and others of his ilk that would profit from the proposed Enclosure of Bramford lands. "Not that there isn't plenty in the Church to speak ill about ... No, I meant others that have a leash on me and men like me."
He embraced her, taking in her scent and warmth. Catherine's acquiescing to sit upon his lap was a happy surprise. In the last weeks, she had told him often enough that any cosseting made her uncomfortable -- she thought herself too-well advanced to be touched or held.
"I just meant that I can now speak freely and not be frightened that my actions would land us, dunnage and all, out on the carriageway."
Catherine allowed his embrace for a short time, but soon rose to her feet. "Father would welcome us, to the Keystone, with open arms, no matter what you may have done. You know that." He nodded in agreement. "Now, I must be downstairs and help with breakfast. Fat sausages and oat cakes with that maple syrup Mrs Junkins brought us yesterday. It is fortunate she brought more, as I think it has become a favourite of his."
The Junkins had come the day before to bid Frederick a good and safe journey. They had only stayed a little while and as they were leaving, had made a gift of the syrup. It had been a cosy visit, though blessedly short as both the Rector and his wife noticed that Louisa had not been herself.
"Speaking of the Junkins', do you think he is well? I thought him pale yesterday."
Fastening on a clean apron, Catherine said, "I did not notice. He was well enough to walk out back with your brother." She came and stood before him, so he could tie her strings. "And Beatrice said nothing. I think she would have said something, were he ill." She turned. "Edward, my darling, you are always looking for the dark side of every cloud. Frederick is leaving today, and I think that is shadowing everything for you just now." She kissed his forehead and began for the door.
Edward caught her hand as she started away. "I am not planning any uprisings -- no defections. I am just a bit giddy with this new freedom, nothing more." He did not wish to cause her worry.
She squeezed his hand. "I know. Just remember from whence your true Freedom comes." Her statement left him puzzling.
The small bedside clock sounded another quarter hour and drew his attention away from the homely noises of the Rector and his wife preparing for the day. This set of bells made four quarters all together, and quite enough in the mind of Frederick Wentworth.
The first quarter hour had been spent between his waking and rising to kindle a fresh fire. The second two quarters had been for the fire itself, and all the calculated racket he could muster without bringing Edward down on him. The fire had caught well and was warming the room admirably. Louisa had now emerged from being completely hidden beneath the blankets, to pushing them well past her shoulders, almost to her waist.
Though he wished her to be awake, he did enjoy his view of her sleeping form. The day before, she had rescued an old, worn nightshirt of his. He had meant it for Catherine's rag bag, as its age made it too thin for any other useful purpose.
"I shall keep it while you are away and even wear it when I am missing you," she had cried. Just to prove her point, she had worn it to bed that very night. It was overly large on her, nearly sweeping the floor, but she proclaimed it wonderful and already much loved. As he watched her sleep, the sun rising confirmed just how worn the poor old dear was. As he continued to admire the scenery, wisdom dictated it best not to crow, but to allow her to discover how thin it had worn in spots.
The last quarter hour had been spent shifting about, purposely causing the bed to creak and moan, in hopes that she would be up. Nothing had disturbed her and so, it was time to take matters into his own hands.
Surveying her position on the pillow, he noted her right hand lay loosely clenched, almost forming a fist. This loose fist rested against her upper lip, with her knuckle just touching her nose. This was a formidable impediment as his objective was her lips and the first, sweet kiss of the day. His chosen weapon -- her own hair.
Since their first time together -- was it just Monday? -- she had simply removed the pins from her hair each night, and had made no pretense of trying to plait it or catch it up by any manner. This worked in his favour this particular morning and made it easy to gently take a few loose strands.
Using the strands, he brushed them across her face. At first, there was little response, save a low moan, or a twitch of her nose. But as the attacks became more calculated and harrying, first her fingers flexed and finally, her entire hand batted at the hair and came to rest back on the pillow, but, well way from her face. The first step of the mission was a success and the Captain was sure, that when all was said and done, he would carry the day.
Even as Frederick had been preparing his target for capture, he took into account that his wife was prone to confusion upon waking. This being the case, for him to pounce, in a fit of passionate kisses, might diminish her warm welcome of him, the conquering hero. And so, the execution of the next stage of action was even more delicate than the first.
Slowly, agonisingly so, Frederick leant over Louisa's face and lightly stroked her cheek with his finger. She moved slightly, but remained facing to her side. Moving in again, he brushed her mouth with is own lips.
A murmur and nothing more. He repeated his actions, each time pressing himself more firmly to her, until she turned slightly, giving him a wide approach to the goal. Gently, but persistently, he applied himself, until there was an indication of surrender.
When she woke, he could feel her start, but just barely. Being a reasonable woman, once she understood the nature of her predicament, she gave up willingly. From that point, it was obvious she welcomed her captor. Her hands made their familiar circuit of his neck and hair, down the front of his shoulders, under his arms, coming to rest upon his back. As these sweet, curious, almost independent creatures travelled their path, they pulled him closer to their mistress.
"Good morning. I have never been awakened with a kiss before. I like it." Louisa bit her lip at the admission.
He gently brushed her lips with his fingertips and said, "I have been waiting an eternity for you to wake up. Even my getting in and out of this noisy contraption, and knocking wood about the hearth did not disturb your sleep. I was determined to take matters into my own hands -- uh, lips ... " They laughed at the simple-minded joke.
They became quiet again and he said, "You looked like a sleeping princess. You know, like from a story and I decided, though I am only a sea captain and not a prince, I would awaken you with a kiss." He knew that such an admission was ridiculous and not even completely true -- he had not been driven by faerie tales -- but over the past few days, he had felt, and said nothing but the ridiculous. At odd times, he wondered precisely what component of love was able to turn a perfectly rational man, such as himself, into an imbecile, willing to do and say the most nauseating things -- and take great pleasure by them!
Louisa studied his face for a moment. She arranged his hair with her fingertips. "You are far superior to any prince." Tears welled in her eyes. "For a good and kind and loving husband and father are better than all the princes and, pardon me for saying, all the sea captains in the world." She pursed her lips to keep back the tears. This caused her transitory dimple to appear.
In a sudden rush of feeling, he gathered her up, kissed her, and held her tight. "Thank you," he whispered. "Aside from the uniform, there are few who find such noble worth in me."
Savouring the warmth of their embrace, they lay quietly. He thought again about what she said. "For a good and kind and loving husband and father are better than all the princes and ... all the sea captains in the world."
Father. She had said father. Could she possibly know something -- so soon? The thought of a child overwhelmed him. As his departure loomed closer, the thought of leaving her at all was growing more painful, but were she with child ... His breath caught in his chest and he went weak for a moment.
"Are you all right?" she asked. Her concern was obvious. "Frederick?" She drew back and carefully examined his face, searching out the reason for his flagging embrace.
"It is nothing. I ... I ... had a spasm ... in my back." He renewed his hold and buried himself further in her arms.
The couple rose soon after that. He did not trust himself to remain with her in their bed. On this of all days, their late arrival would be noticed at the table.
After the prayer and rather quiet beginning, they all enjoyed a jolly breakfast as Edward and Frederick traded stories about the neighbourhood in which they had resided in Liverpool. It had housed a large and very odd assortment of characters and the brothers seemed to have stories about them all. It was one of brothers' few commonalities that did not involve the sea and at all costs, they avoided the subject of the sea.
After breakfast, Frederick had gone upstairs to recheck his satchel and saddlebags, while Louisa followed Catherine through the house, chattering, to keep her mind from her husband's departure.
The Captain planned to leave mid afternoon, just after dinner. When he was certain of his luggage, he grew restive and elected to take a walk to the Greenhouse, out behind the small apple orchard. During his earlier visit, Edward and he had chosen that spot for several talks and times of quiet, mutual company. It was this place that Frederick elected to go as he now wished to have quiet, and a time of reflection. There was a storm brewing in his soul and he needed to find some peace.
Entering the Greenhouse, he saw that nothing had been altered. Not much time had passed since January's snowy New Year's Eve. But so very much in his heart had changed. Taking one of the rickety chairs, left by the previous occupants of the Rectory, he faced it towards the long wall of glass, rather than towards the small coal burner that stood in one corner. He sat the chair backwards and studied the various patterns the overgrown yews made as they grew, pushed up against the glass.
Over the past few days, there had been times, just odd moments really, when the Captain had looked very much forward to his return to the sea and his beloved Laconia. But, these times were short-lived. Louisa had kept close to him. Just a look or a smile from him would bring her to his side. She demanded nothing of him. No conversation, no stories or entertainments, merely his presence.
A few months previous, her behaviour would have been repellent to him, but now, it was a pleasure. He even found himself catching her eye for the express purpose of bringing her near. It would seem that all that passions he had felt for the sea, were now flowing elsewhere. He wondered if this might be his last time out, might he have lost all desire for the sea and sailing?
Much of his struggle sprung from his own manoeuvreing to return to duty. It was a bitter pill to swallow, considering he now cared deeply, nay loved his young wife. There was no other to blame. It was as good as his own hand that had placed the Admiralty seal upon the orders. The orders which now took him from her side.
Had the situation befallen another, preferably someone he disliked, the poor devil's wretched state would have amused him no end. And in that amusement, Frederick would have hoisted a glass, toasted the fellow and gleefully savoured the irony. But, as this was a fix of his own making, the irony only grudgingly appealed to his sense of justice, and there was not a crumb of amusement to be had.
In an effort to shift his thoughts, he shifted his seat and changed his view of the bushes. He contemplated his journey and contemplated the hospitality of Uppercross, even for just a night. Out of the blue, came Louisa's comment from the morning.
"For a good and kind and loving husband and father are better than all the princes and, pardon me for saying, all the sea captains in the world."
Though she was not present with him, the comment still caused him to catch his breath. For his part, the Captain had given little thought to their having children. Other than the general notion that they would have some and that he would be their father and Louisa, their mother, thoughts of progeny had been left to more observant members of her family.
At the Wedding Breakfast, there had been his mortifying brush with an ancient aunt of the Hayter clan. The old woman had pointedly watched the Captain the entire morning, and then, before the gathered mob, had made a show of closely observing his features. After this careful examination, the woman had loudly proclaimed that between the two, there would be children of good health, good cheer, of robust constitution and handsome features. Had this been the whole of her pronouncement, Frederick would have raised a glass in toast to such a benign prediction and the party would have proceeded on to as satisfying a conclusion as his then, morbid state of mind would allow. But, alas, much to the embarrassment of both, that was not all the auntie had to say.
The old woman had observed more and she had gone on to report to the entire gathering, that in her considered opinion, the children of the Wentworth-Musgrove union would not only be happy and healthy and all she had stated before, but they would be quite numerous as well! Just by watching the pair, she had clucked, it was plain to see that both were willing and anxious to be fruitful and multiply.
The entire company had burst into laughter and applause. Louisa had looked away in shame, while he had hardened into a block of stone. Other than a vague remembrance of knowing looks, cat calls and congratulatory thumps to his back afterwards, all he could clearly remember was Edward rolling his eyes and burying himself in a large flagon of small beer.
But now, after nearly a fortnight of marriage and a scant three nights of passion, as humiliating as the event had been, he looked on it with considerably less horror. It was still low and showed the vulgar nature of the Hayters. But, try as he might, he could not rid himself of the notion that Old Auntie Hayter, was, perhaps, some sort of seeress and prophetess. She certainly had discerned something in his nature that was only now becoming recognisable to him.
He thought about Louisa's shame at the wedding breakfast. Her appealing mix of hesitation and passion at the beginning of their first night. But mostly, he thought about her courage the next night and how she had sought him out in the nursery and, how each night since, she had been his willing partner. Neither being skilled at intimacy, their explorations had been rather clumsy and fumbling. But, these loving quests were mixed with gentle coaxing, smothered laughter, and a deepening trust. Both had taken care to be kind and gentle with one another. Perhaps this natural progression had resulted in another.
Surely she cannot know so soon -- but women know things -- their mothers tell them things -- don't they? She would say -- perhaps not -- I am leaving -- she can't know anything! She would tell, would she not? The same thoughts went around and around until they made almost no sense at all.
It was all too much to think on and he closed his eyes, resting his head on his arms.
As he quieted his mind, he could see her and he even began to feel her presence.
Not expecting to hear anyone, much less Louisa, he stood hastily, knocking over the chair and tripping himself in the bargain. "I -- I was thinking, not on watch for anyone."
She stood in the doorway of the Greenhouse, hands together before her. "I am not the enemy," she gently chided. Her pelisse was pushed back, over her shoulders, to reveal her blue dress with the golden braid. And, around her neck, she wore the beads he had given her. This was all surrounded by the silken shawl drawn around her shoulders. "I didn't not mean to frighten you. I went to the wall, by the apple trees. I called for you, but you must not have heard. Then I followed the path back here." Her eyes sparkled as she waited for him to notice her costume.
He heard what she said, but was not particularly interested in how she had come to find him, only that she had, and was now there with him.
Righting the chair, he hurriedly wiped it with his pocket handkerchief. "Please, sit with me. I was just thinking about ... things. Nothing important." He had pulled the second chair close and sat. Before Louisa could speak, he said, "So, so you think you will wear my nightshirt again tonight." He watched to see how she would respond. He had not helped her to dress that morning, as was their usual habit, and so was ignorant of how she viewed herself in the nightshirt by daylight.
Louisa coloured awfully, but refused to turn away. She nervously chewed her lip and then said, "No, I do not think I shall wear it any more. You were right, it is a bit too ... flimsy for daily use. But I do intend to fold it and keep it beneath your pillow. Then when I miss too much, I may reach out and touch it." She looked away for an embarrassed moment and then turned back. "You think me silly for that, I am sure," she said, more cheerfully.
The idea that she would keep it so close was touching. "Yes, flimsy is a good term for it. The only reason I was able to keep it for so long was my steward, Michaelson's genius. I believe that the man could launder a spider's web were I but to ask." He moved his chair closer and took her hands. "And no, I do not think you silly. In fact, I think that you and I are cut from the same cloth -- thin as it might be." Both smiled.
"How so? That we are from the same cloth?"
"You want to keep a threadbare nightshirt -- to remind yourself of me. I have kept many useless mementos of my past. I call them my talismans, and hide behind the superstitious nature of sailors, but they are really just the tokens of a sentimental man. So, you see, we are very much a like, you and I."
"I am glad." Her smile widened. "I like the idea that we are much the same. Then perhaps ... " her voice trailed off.
She took a deep breath and again found her voice. "You leave me here, sick in love with you and perhaps -- just perhaps -- if we are very much alike, you too will be a little ill from missing me." She looked up. "Am I wicked to wish for such a thing?"
He pulled her to him. Whispering in her ear, he said, "No, not wicked at all, I will be sick for you."
He drew back and they studied one another. Her face was sadness itself, but she smiled nonetheless. Louisa lay her head on his shoulder. "I have never had anyone so saddened over my leaving." Some part of him rebelled as he said this, but for the most part, it was the truth. "Am I wicked to say that I am gratified that I shall be so missed?"
He could feel her shake her head, but she said nothing in response. He kissed her temple and then her cheek. She raised her head and offered her mouth in a kiss.
"Louisa, I will miss you. I have never felt so wretched about leaving. I normally am all anticipation, but you have ruined this return for me -- the sea is not nearly as dear as she was." She stopped his mouth with another kiss.
"I am glad. I am sorry, I know you are born to her, but I am glad -- " This time, it was he who ended their talking.
"Loua, I know I have not said anything, I know I have not said the words, but I l -- "
"Frederick! Louisa! Where are you?" the voice was Edward's.
They drew apart, flushed with emotion and embarrassed at nearly being found in such a way. Each looked aside, and then back to the other. They were drawn to look again.
"There you are! Did you not hear me calling? Dinner is ready. I thought you would be in by now. I sent Louisa some time ... ago." He looked first to one, then to the other. He knew immediately that he had interrupted. Flushing, he hurriedly turned and called back, "Be quick, you two. Catherine will have all our hides!" He walked up the path without a backwards glance.
"We had better go in -- dinner."
"Yes, dinner." Neither knew what to say or do. The magic of the previous moment was broken and gone, leaving them with much unsaid. "We had best get on."
"Yes." Louisa pulled her pelisse closed over her dress and shawl. He had not noticed. She moved towards the door of the Greenhouse.
"Wait," he said, catching up to her side. "Let me have your hand." She offered him one. "No, the other," he said, taking it. He stripped off her glove and removing his own, he took her hand in his and slid them both into his own pocket. "I saw someone do this once and I rather fancied it," he said.
Leaning her head upon his shoulder as they walked, she sighed, "I think that I do too." The slowly made their way up the path, and to the house for their last dinner together.
"Here, your supper, brother." Edward said, holding out a sack to Frederick.
He took it and looking inside, he found the promised bread, cheese, raisins and a banana, along with a small jug of beer. Tying it up again, he hooked it over the pommel of his saddle and said, "Thank Catherine for me. I told her that I was capable of feeding myself along the way, but I could see that it was important that I accept." Rearranging the contents of the bag so that the jug did not crush the banana, he continued, "I expected Louisa would bring it to me." He hoped that his brother did not hear the tinge of disappointment that he was feeling.
Testing and prodding the various bags and cases hanging from the saddle, he said, "Sorry. She was half out the door when I asked if I might bring it to you. I think she could see that I wanted to talk with you and she graciously allowed me the honour." At this, he tugged on the cords tied around the crate which contained the crystal vase destined for the future Mr and Mrs Charles Hayter. He was not surprised to find that the knots were securely and perfectly tied.
For the second time, Frederick checked the buckles of the bridle and was starting on the girth. "You wish to talk. We have talked quite a lot over the past days -- weeks really. It has not been so long that I was here before. And we did little but talk that time 'round." He did not mind a talk with Edward, but this departure was different from all the rest. The Captain was more unsettled than usual, but not for the same reasons.
Resting his arms over the cantle of the saddle, Edward smiled. Since Frederick's arrival in December, the brothers had certainly come to a new understanding of one another. This made his departure doubly painful, as both had new lives that were just beginning.
"Well, I just wanted to thank you for the money. I have told Catherine and she is very grateful as well."
"Ah, hence the banana." He glanced at Edward and grinned.
"Yes, no doubt. A token of her gratitude. But really, thank you again. It means a lot, especially because of Levant. I may secure the living, but -- "
Frederick straightened. "But what?"
"I may not be able to keep it. You know how I talk. I might find myself in the stew over ... lots of things. I may have to use the money to move on. Who is to say?"
Again, he grinned at his brother. "You would never move on. You might be removed as the rector here, but you would find a way to stay and see that everyone is cared for. Let us not talk about it any more. Talk of money bores me at present." He gave the stirrup a hard tug.
"Uh, there is something else." Edward left the horse and moved to the hay bin and snatched up a handful. "At your age you would not know about these matters, but -- " He let all the straws drop, save one. "As you grow older, you begin to greet each year as though it might be your last. I shall be forty-eight soon and I am already one of the oldest men in the parish. I feel it acutely." He had worked the straw soft and pliable. Frederick had finished with the horse and was watching his brother. "The money relieves me greatly because now I will not leave Catherine -- and our son -- "
"It is a boy? You can know this?" Frederick asked with great interest of his own.
Edward smiled. "No. No, I do not know it to be a boy, I merely hope and pray. I tell Catherine otherwise, but I do wish a son." He looked at Frederick. He hoped this would not insult his brother. Frederick had always held a son's place in Edward's heart.
"Even if ... something were to happen to you, Catherine's family would take her back with no trouble. There should be no worry on that score," Frederick said.
"Certainly not. I have had no worries for their physical well-being." He paused, gathering his thoughts. "I have realised that the way someone is raised makes a great deal of difference, and by that I mean the influences in them. Their parents, the Church, the people in their village. All this plays a part. But the major part is their family. The Keyes are wonderful people and I would be proud for them to be a great influence over my children, but -- "
"I wish -- " the words caught in Edward's throat. He turned away and steadied himself. Turning back, he continued. "I wish, that if anything happens to me while you are gone, that you do everything in your power to help raise my son -- or daughter, but most especially a son. I can think of no one else I would wish to do that." The Rector turned away and wiped his eyes. He had not anticipated such emotion.
Frederick stood stunned. He had expected Edward to assure him that Louisa was a welcome addition to household and that they would care for her well. He had not expect this.
Without turning, Edward said, "I understand Father more, the older I grow. Not his cruelty, certainly, but his desire that he give us something of himself. For him it was that d*amnable warehouse. Neither of us would have been happy there, we both know that." He turned. "But -- it was something of himself and to pass that to your children is the most vital thing in the world! Else, no one ever knows that you've been alive!"
The import of his words struck Frederick like a hammer. It was true. Other than a few papers inscribed with his name, once he was dead, there was no living proof that he had ever existed. He was suddenly taken with an urge to find and ask Louisa if his suspicions were true.
Edward stood looking at Frederick. His look was incomprehensible. Perhaps he was forming a polite refusal of the charge laid before him. The Rector had not thought there might be disinclination on his brother's part.
The Rector was about to retract his request when Frederick spoke. "I accept your charge. I only hope I can do justice to your faith in me. I have not, of late, comported myself very well -- about Louisa and An -- "
"Nonsense! Your comportment in this matter is the very thing that makes me ask."
"What? After all the impropriety and confusion and hurt I have caused? Certainly that is not what you wish a child to learn."
"He will learn all that on his own, I am afraid. Man comes to all that quite naturally, we both know that." He paused. "Frederick, you have always had a high sense of honour, but it has always manifest itself in your rank and career and such as that. It has not really been in anything to do with you, with your heart. But this -- this was quite different. You put aside your desires and the perfect notions you had held precious. You put them aside and did what was proper and right to do. And instead of going about here as one under a pall of duty, you have cared well for her, and been a true husband. I cannot help but admire that."
"Does it count against me that I do care for her -- that I love her now? Perhaps that puts my honourable nature in danger, for this is not the sacrifice that I had expected."
Edward smiled. "No, it endangers nothing of my opinion, for you would not have come to this, had you not done the other first."
Frederick looked away, back to Belle's bridle."I will accept and do as you wish in this, if you will do the same for me," he said, keeping his eyes fixed on a small buckle.
"Of course, but you have no children."
... a good husband and father ... Redoing the buckle, he said, "I might be leaving my wife with a child, who knows? And of we two, my occupation is certainly the one which nearly guarantees death." Frederick looked frankly at his brother. "I can think of no other man who I would wish to influence my child -- a son especially."
The brothers first shook hands and then, reluctantly embraced. Both knew this might be the last time for such things and each held tight to the other.
"It is time, Frederick." Louisa's voice came from behind them.
The Rector and the Captain parted, embarrassed by the display. Edward clapped his brother on the arm and said, "I shall fetch Catherine." He smiled at Louisa as he left them for the house.
"Did the two of you speak, he seemed anxious when I gave him your supper."
"Yes, we spoke," he said, gathering the reins. "We had a fine conversation. So, it is time, eh?" He looked at her.
She gave him a weak smile and a too vigourous nod. She came to him as he opened the doors to lead out Belle. Taking his hand, she said, "I swore to myself that I would not be a fool and blubber, but I can't help myself. I -- I...," she dissolved into tears.
They held one another for a long time. She cried the tears she had held back and he blinked back many of his own. The noise of the back door opening brought her around and she wiped her cheeks with a corner of her apron.
Frederick touched her face and hair. He bent close to her face and said, quietly, "It is gratifying to know that I warrant such a display. And it is not foolish -- Belle is very understanding of such matters." They looked at the horse and laughed a little.
They all stood gathered around Frederick and Belle. Both he and Louisa knew they were being watched, both knew that propriety called for restraint.
Leaning down, Frederick kissed Louisa's cheek. She did likewise and whispered, "I shall miss you ... I love you, Frederick."
Grazing her cheek with his, he whispered back, "I shall miss you, Loua. I love you."
Drawing apart, even through her tears, her smile was wide. He knew that his words had done this. She opened her mouth, but he interrupted her.
"Remember that -- that I love you."
"Of course, I will revell in the knowledge -- "
He took her by the arms and looked intently. "No -- remember it ... put it deep inside yourself. Put somewhere that no one can dissuade you, that nothing can shake you from the knowledge."
His intensity nearly frightened her. "I -- I will do that, I swear."
He pulled her close and she hid herself in the lapel of his coat for the last time. Reluctantly, he let her go. Before completely separating, he squeezed her hands hard, and smiled. "I love you, rmember that." She nodded. "I must be off ... Edward ... thank you," he said, shaking his hand.
"You are most welcome, brother, you know that. Safe journeying and come home soon."
As soon as possible, I assure you. Catherine ... take care, and write as soon as my nephew is born." He glanced quickly at a smiling Edward.
"I will, Frederick. Return to us the moment you are able ... we will be waiting." She kissed his cheek and nodded.
Looking back to Louisa, he came to her and said, "I know that you wanted no scenes of blubbering, but I can't help myself." Taking her in his arms, he held her tight and kissed her.
Edward handed his wife a handkerchief as she began to cry. He thought to himself that things had worked out much better than he had ever thought possible.
"You ... must ... go ... Frederick," Louisa said through their kisses.
"I ... know. As I told you ... you have ... quite ... spoiled ... things for me!" Giving her one last kiss, he let her go and forced himself to mount.
"I shall write as soon as I have arrived," he said, bringing the mare to a stand. "Brother ... Sister, farewell," he waved. "Good bye, my girl ... I love you!" Louisa came to him. He touched her hair and she caressed his hand. With that, he touched the horses flanks and was off towards the carriageway.
Louisa watched him round the house. Not wishing to let him go just yet, she followed his path and ran to the side of the road, where she stood watching as he cantered toward the curve that would take him out of sight. She waved, though he had not turned to look.
"You didn't do this the last time he left us," Edward said putting his arm about his wife.
Catherine pursed her lips and tersely said, "The last time, he had the courtesy to sneak away ... he did not force me to this! Go fetch her ... if I go, I shall make her cry which will make me cry and then we shall cause a spectacle out on the road." Dabbing her eyes, she turned tot he house. "I shall see to some tea, I think we all need some tea." Giving him the handkerchief, she went inside.
Frederick had slowed as he came to the curve and Louisa began to wave harder, hoping that he could see her. "Here ... wave this. He'll see it clearly." She looked to see the Rector, hand extending, offering her his handkerchief. Smiling thanks, she took it and waved with renewed vigour.
"He sees it! He can see it ... he waves back!" Louisa cried excitedly. Watching and waving until he disappeared around the bend, she finally lowered her aching arm. "He saw me ... he knows I waved," she said quietly. Her voice cracked.
Edward took her arm and began to guide her back to the house. Other than an occasional look down the carriageway, she went willingly, for she was too emotional to do much of anything else. "Catherine went on into the house and we shall have some refreshments. Good byes are always hard ... I personally wish they were not necessary. But," he patted his sister-in-law's hand, "we have you here to cheer us and we shall do our best to cheer you."
Taking one last, impossible look, she said, "I will not be very cheerful ... and I am not certain that I will be of much use in cheering you -- "
A man on horseback had been watching as the Captain gained the carriageway and when he had seen Louisa and then the Rector come around the house to continue waving him off, he had held himself well away. When there was no danger of his being seen by the Captain, Pollard Levant urged his horse forward. "Ho! Rector, where might your brother be off to?"
Edward stiffened as he realised to whom the voice belonged. He again patted his sister's hand as he turned and faced his benefactor.
"Mr Levant, good afternoon."
Touching his hat to Mrs Wentworth, Levant said, "I hope the Captain shall not be gone from us for too long a time."
"He is returning to duty in Plymouth," Edward said.
"Ah, that explains the luggage. What a shame for the family -- to have one off to what looks to be a certain war! And what a blow to you Mrs Wentworth, his having to leave so soon after your marriage. I offer my condolences."
Louisa's look was one of surprise. She nodded and turned away. Edward seethed. "Mr Levant, we need to return to the house. Thank you for stopping and ... chatting." Edward began to move Louisa to the house.
"Certainly, uh, by the bye, Wentworth, I got your note. I look forward to seeing you first thing Monday. First thing, mind you. I very much wish to conclude our business, but I am a busy man."
"Certainly. I wish to conclude our business as well. I shall be at the Hall first thing. I assure you."
Gathering the reins, he jerked the horse's head, causing it to start and turn. Cursing and beating it about the withers, Levant brought it finally to a standstill. The man was out of breath, but said, "Stupid beast! There! Again, Mrs Wentworth, I hope that the Captain is spared in his every endeavour." He touched his hat, signalling the end of the conversation. "Rector. First thing Monday."
The Rector nodded and waved him away. They again started for the house. Everything had taken on a grey cast and seemed unreasonably quiet.
"I hope you do not think ill of me, Rector, but I do not like him. I have met him now three times and each meeting has been more off-putting than the last."
Edward could not help agree, but his religious position would not allow him to pursue the comment. "I understand you perfectly. But, he is the Lord of the Manor." He sighed and gave a fleeting thought to the money in his desk.
"I suppose you must take those sorts of things into consideration."
No matter how unpleasant the brush with Pollard Levant, he would not allow it to add to their sorrow. "Well, as I was saying when we were so rudely interrupted, our only alternative is gossip."
"Oh yes. Vicious gossip about ... Frederick"
Louisa looked shocked. A clergyman suggesting such a thing! Gossip as a diversion! But upon more careful examination, she could see that the Rector was not serious. Around his eyes was the same look as Frederick when he teazed her.
Louisa had never spoken much with the Rector, but if his face took on the same expressions as Frederick's, perhaps he had the same humourous inclinations. "Well, maybe a bit of gossip would not hurt ... but must it be viscous?" She gave the Rector an innocent look.
Surprised that she caught his meaning so quickly, he said calmly, "I suppose that cruel gossip is out of the question ... his just having left and all. But, I do have some embarrassing childhood tales you might find amusing." He leaned in conspiratorially, "Things which would make him howl were he to know I was telling!" He straightened and made a face.
"What is it? She asked, anxious.
"My dear, these are things that might make you regret marrying into the family!" His look was as solemn as Sunday.
Louisa laughed. She had not noticed, but in many ways, not just looks, the Rector bore a remarkable resemblance to her husband. The way he would whisper something absurd, giving it an importance it did not deserve. His air when a situation was sad or serious. All these things were so like Frederick. Or rather, Frederick was so like his brother. "You will not allow me to be sad, will you?"
"No, dear ... not in my presence. You will do enough grieving when you are alone. No, when we are all together, we shall do whatever we must to cheer ourselves!" Opening the door for her, he said, "You are a part of the family now, my dear. For better or worse, you are a Wentworth."
And so, with Frederick's leaving Louisa and Shropshire, we end Volume 3 of Love Suffers Long and Is Kind.
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