Love Suffers Long and is Kind
"Landing in Halifax . . . establish my bank . . . then onto, where? Ha! Fredericton! It's not Nova Scotia, but how different could New Brunswick be?" The Captain spoke quietly under his breath, not wishing to disturb Captain Hunston. Studying the map of the North American station, he had already plotted several different courses.
"Would this be your first time to North America, sir?" Captain Hunston asked with interest.
Frederick had not heard the man come to stand nearby. "Yes. . . I have spent most of my time in the tropics and other than a time in the Western Islands, this would be my first cold-weather experience. Have you any direct knowledge of this area?" Frederick could see by his swabs that Captain Hunston was a newly made captain, but might have more background in North America than himself.
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I did a long turn with a Captain Jonathan Hooker, he was a prot»g» of Baron von Humboldt. What Humboldt did for the Pacific currents off of South America, Hooker did for the currents in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. I was with him for . . . oh, nearly two years, circumnavigating and taking soundings to make new charts. We sailed out of Channel-Port aux Basques . . . here off Newfoundland," he said, pointing to the western coast. "But we occasionally got to Halifax for dispatches and mail. My best advice would be, become very used to the feel of wool against your skin, it will be your constant companion most of the year . . . " Before the Captain could continue, both men stopped to listen to the calls which came with a weighing anchor. Both felt the heightened emotions at the beginning of a sail and the deep sense of anticipation connected to it. At the same time, a regulator clock chimed the three quarter hour.
At the conclusion of the ritual, both men returned to their conversation. "As I was about to say, I have just received a new commission, I wish with all my heart it were back to that station, but alas, that is not to be. The country is wondrous. Around the Gulf is beautiful, but to sail into Quebec is truly a spectacle, the mountains are amazingly high and jagged as broken glass." With a smile, he added, "But the winters are as cold as an angry wife!"
Frederick smiled, "I hear there is much opportunity to make a good living if one is willing to work?"
"Oh! To be sure. Even a modest purse can be a good beginning there. The hard work is the key. I have known officers thrown ashore who have taken their half pay and done near miracles with it . . . of course, there are those who have also been fooled by any of a multitude of lurchers, quacks and speculators that line the streets. If one keeps their purse close to their heart and a brain in their head, there is much to be made of themselves. Have you any definite plans?" the captain asked.
"No, none at all. Just doing a bit of 'speculating' myself. Thank you for the information, I appreciate your time." Frederick turned away from the map and took a seat.
A door opened and a tall, thinnish man wearing glasses and holding an arm load of files looked in and informed them both, "The Admiral is dreadfully late this morning; Captain Wentworth, it will be another half an hour at least. Captain Hunston, I am telling him of your presence now." The man disappeared through another door, closing it with a bit of a slam.
"Darwin! Come in here . . . now!" Admiral Locke bellowed. Brushing ashes from his uniform and relighting the cheroot, he leaned back in his chair as he looked at the list of appointments for the day. The first should be easily dealt with, I'll have Darwin do the deed, the Admiral thought casually. Mr Darwin entered the office with a mass of files pertaining to the appointments. Laying them on the Admiral's desk, he began to sort them in their order corresponding to the morning appointments.
"Yes sir. What was it you needed of me?" While Mr Darwin sounded and looked the part, he was not a particularly timid man, but Admiral Locke had a reputation for savagery. When at sea, it was a bloody sabre that he would wield, when ashore, it was his vicious tongue which did his work. Continuing with the files, he tensely awaited the Admiral's orders.
"I want you to tell Captain Hunston that he will not be getting the Galaxy. It will be going to Captain Reginald Grant. Have the orders rewritten to include the change and then send them off with a marine," he said in a dismissive tone. As he had spoken, he had used the hand in which he held the cheroot. Waving Darwin towards the door, ashes had fallen from its end and scattered over the top of the desk.
Upon hearing the order, Mr Darwin paled. He was to tell Captain Hunston! The man in question was waiting just outside! He had arrived early, wanting to thank the Admiral personally for the step up; he had told Darwin of bringing his family from Shelmerston and how grateful he was to have another ship, how languishing on shore had nearly ruined him. And now this . . . He stood motionless for a moment and then the Admiral's growling about the ashes automatically sent Mr Darwin's hand to his breast pocket for a handkerchief to dust off the desk.
As he worked to remove the ashes without smudging the documents, the clerk stuttered, "B-but sir. Hunston is next. The orders were from Whitehall! I can't change them!" As the words left his mouth, Mr Darwin knew he had placed his head squarely on the chopping block.
"What do you mean, you can't change them? The rescission was also from Whitehall and will be carried out! Now, I have told you what to do and it will be done! Get Hunston's name off those orders and put Grant's on them! Hunston needs to learn to speak nicely to certain young gentlemen. He was too rough with Lord -----'s favourite son and is now to pay for it. Am I understood?" The Admiral glared at his secretary while puffing angrily on the cigar.
Mr Darwin thought how his superior looked vaguely like a steam engine, but cleared that directly out of his mind. It was time to be very careful, not careless. "Yes sir. I shall have done in a thrice." He turned and went out, dreading to face the ecstatic Captain Hunston.
Meanwhile, after Darwin had left them, Captain Hunston hitched his sword forward and settled into the seat next to Frederick. "I hope you don't think me impertinent, but would I have the pleasure of meeting Captain Frederick Wentworth?"
The Captain looked into the gentleman's eager face, and while there was a vague familiarity, having no perfect recognition of him, answered with a cautious, "Yes, I am he. But I think I am not acquainted with you, sir."
Standing and extending his hand, Captain Hunston introduced himself, "Captain Thomas Hunston, newly of the 32-gun Galaxy. I am here to thank the Admiral for the step up. I have been ashore for much too long and now I have settled my family here and am to have a fine cruise to the Adriatic." The fellow smiled as he realised his rudeness, 'I am sorry, I force myself upon you and then don't even explain as to how I know you. I was your first midshipman on the Asp."
The names which came to him, the names of his mids on the Asp were nothing like Hunston and so as he took the man's hand, he said, "I do not recall you being aboard the Asp, and it being a rather close fit, I think I would recall."
As they shook, Captain Hunston laughed. "I don't wonder that you do not remember, I was put off the ship before we even weighed anchor . . . mumps you know."
Looking into Hunston's smiling, open face, the memory of a younger, swollen, spotted face, with a wool sock tied about the chin came to him. The nineteen-year-old with a voice barely broken had begged to remain in the sick-bay until he was well, but on the advice of a one-eyed, half-drunken surgeon's mate, he had been put ashore and the Asp had sailed with her new captain short one midshipman.
Shaking Hunston's hand with more vigour, Frederick said, "Hunston! I am glad to see that the mumps were not your undoing. You were obviously able to find another ship." He smiled to himself, musing that the mumps had not only left the fellow's career undamaged, but seeing as he mentioned a family, they had spared other things near and dear to any man.
"Thank you, sir. Yes, I was aboard the Cranston, a 20-gun frigate within two months time. While I would like to fancy it was the skill I had shown with Captain Gilson, your predecessor, I think it had more to do with all the ships of the time were starving for hands. I was sad to hear when she had sunk, the Asp I mean, but the Great Nation, . . . what a thumping great prize, sir!"
"Yes, Providence was smiling on us when taking her. I give you joy in the Galaxy. I have seen her moored at the west end. By her lines, she looks to be a sweet sailer."
"Thank you , sir. Aye, that she is. . . I hope to do some deep water sailing with her . . . but that will be in the future and who is able to tell where that may go?"
As they were about continue in the conversation of two captains, the Admiral's secretary entered again. "Captain Hunston, may I take you through here," he said, indicating yet another door. "Captain Wentworth, when I return, the Admiral should be ready to meet with you." '
After Mr Darwin had left him, Admiral Locke began to paw through the files that he had taken such care to arrange. He saw that his next appointment of the day was that of Frederick Wentworth. He knew that Wentworth had been put ashore in September along with a few hundred others, and was most likely in want of a ship. It was universally known that sailors on land were happy only as long as it took them to get into some sort of trouble, and then they wanted back to the safety that numerous fathoms below could afford. While Wentworth had a starched reputation with women, perhaps a speculator had charmed open his purse and much of that walloping lot of prize he had won was now in another's pocket. Whatever the case, Admiral Locke was in a heady position.
Admiral Benjamin Locke had, at one time, been a fine captain. He had begun his career with a certain respect for the regular seaman. He had allowed his junior officers to start the men with very little cursing and nothing more than a short length of knotted rope; in the captain's younger days, he had felt that the example of Jesus clearing out the temple with a small whip of cords was an excellent example to use. In the succeeding years, he had continued to allow it only because most officers became too zealous with the harsher punishments, (cane, hands or feet, and the cobbing-board), and put too many able men into the sick-bay, thus hampering the efficiency of the crew. As time had gone on, his ideas about starting had not changed, but the grating had to be rigged for flogging first two and then three times a week; eventually it became a daily event. Only Sundays were the men spared standing to witness punishment. Locke had always been fortunate, each commission had ended just as the men were beginning to murmur about mutiny. The Kestral's crew had gotten to rolling cannonballs across the quarterdeck on the middle watch, but the weather had blessed and the commission had ended sooner than expected, sparing Captain Locke what would have been an undoubtedly violent death.
When Captain Locke had been promoted to Admiral and hoisted his flag, a marvelous change had come over him. He no longer felt the constraints of good-will toward the average sea-going man, he no longer felt that his officers were to be given certain condescension due their rank and standing in the Navy. Admiral Benjamin Locke suddenly saw all those beneath him for what they were, merely hand and foot holds in the cliff he must climb to become the First Lord. It was not a passion he spoke of to anyone. And in reality, there was little hope of it ever coming about as Locke was not a very well connected man. He was neither terribly wealthy, nor prone to obliging others with an engaging personality, but the dream was alive and made itself known in every decision he weighed.
His decisions about Captain Frederick Wentworth were not disinterested. While they would have little effect upon his ascension to the Admiralty, they did have to do with a nasty bit of family embarrassment.
While on a Mediterranean station, his middle daughter had begun a relationship with a young local man. The fellow was the son of a talented, local artisan, not unprosperous, not unconnected by his people's standards and not ungallant, but also not acceptable to the Locke family. After all their efforts to end the ridiculous matter had failed, and her indiscretion had become evident after about four months, to save the Admiral's reputation, a plan had been formulated. The girl was to be taken back to England and put away with a maiden aunt in Cornwall. At the time, Locke had not the ability to change a ship's entire commission and send it home simply to provide passage for his daughter, so . . . the only recourse was to take into his confidence the only captain in his grasp who was genuinly headed that way, and that had been Captain Frederick Wentworth.
When the Admiral had given a cursory explanation to him, the Captain had visibly hesitated. It was obvious that the thought of taking an unmarried, pregnant seventeen-year-old girl on his ship was not to Wentworth's liking. Her father had seen this and being a very clever man, rather than cajoling, begging or outright ordering, he had appealed to the part of the Captain which felt a duty to protect those in peril. It mattered not to Admiral Locke that the story he had woven was a lie from beginning to end. His daughter had not been sullied by anything but her own willfulness. She was in danger of nothing but her own gross stubbornness, and they all lamented nothing but the pall this might cast upon the otherwise unbrilliant career of her father.
Admiral Locke moved aside a file and found what he was looking for. "Ah . . . there you are." Taking the waxed sailcloth packet, he broke the official Admiralty seal and glanced over the papers within. "Well, Captain Wentworth, you should do very well in carrying out this commission. My daughter most certainly could not have been an easy passenger and I would think that Admiral Wellingshire will be not much better."
Being alone in the office, Frederick stood and walked to the window, watching the Allenham, which had just weighed anchor, towing out to the channel. The wind was still that morning and there was no amount of skill which could take the ship from a dead stand out to the chops without the aid of strong backs to the oars. He watched until she reached the mouth and was able to take the current.
Turning back and taking his seat again, he looked at his scraper. It was not his number one, but the other was at Kellynch and this did well enough keeping the rain off. The lace was loose again. Perhaps, if I am fortunate, in a few weeks I will have a steward again to care for these matters. Until such time, I suppose an evening with a needle and thread are in my future, he thought as he nudged the gold braid back into position. Looking at his watch, the Captain wondered where the secretary had taken Captain Hunston and when this Darwin fellow would return so that he could announce him to Admiral Locke.
Absently looking back to the docks, he said quietly to himself, "Best to be done with this before I go dashing off more letters to Anne." On Saturday evening, after a wretched supper in the bar-parlour, and far too much brandy, he had tottered back to his room; determined to write to Anne, revealing all his thoughts and agonisings. Upon waking in the morning, he had viewed the carnage that was the writing desk in his room and had begun to read some of the attempted letters. It was clear that his condition had more than loosened his thoughts, but also had dampened his writing skills. The letters that were understandable, were rambling affairs that made little sense, but showed a man lost and quite capable of breaching every trust he had forged.
While reading what seemed to be the last one, the most ill-written and blotted of the pile, he had read some indiscriminate scraps of rambling which had chilled him. It had begun with the same salutation of, "Dearest Anne," as had all the others. There had been much the same apology for his treatment of her that past autumn, a meandering explanation of his anger and hurt and the ever present plea for her to forgive him and could they begin again? In none of the letters had he ever mentioned the prior claim of Miss Musgrove, nor his proposal to her. What had set this letter apart was the ominous tone taken at the end. He had rattled on, seemingly to no end, when the words, "oblivion" and "cease to torment me," had appeared. In the end, he had threatened to do himself a harm if she were to refuse him.
At that, he had hastened to the rooms occupied by the keep, hoping that he had not attempted to post any other such letters. He had not, and by the warning given him by the keep, it would be in the Captain's best interest to, henceforth, keep well away from the brandy. Returning to the room, he had gathered all the letters and hoved them into the fire. As he had watched them burn away, he had realised with some amusement that while he would, in these ridiculous letters pour out all that he felt of Anne, he would not speak to her when she had been in his presence. He had spoken to all others, save the woman he had come to love again. As he had considered further, he had realised that she had not spoken to him either. She had tried once; she had attempted to thank him when he had, one morning, pulled her nephew, Walter, away from her as the little devil had teased and tormented. But, other than politely civil, social intercourse, there had been no other efforts on her part. Not even a smile now and then to hint of a possible feeling other than apathy. All of his roilings in Shropshire had been the product of wishes and stifled desires, nothing more. The last of the letters had burned away and so had his notions of Anne Elliot caring for him with anything other than indifference.
That realisation had made his coming to Admiral Locke much simpler. There had been little anxiety as he had dressed for the interview, no lamenting his choice to offer for Louisa, marry her and then return to sea if possible; nothing aside from dressing and preparing his mind to meet with the Admiral.
"Captain Wentworth, give me one moment and I shall be right with you. I must file these and then I shall be yours." Mr Darwin's words had been punctuated by his actions and by the time he was finished speaking, he was done with the files. "This way if you please, sir." Mr Darwin motioned to one of the doors he had come through earlier. As the Captain passed, he noticed that the man looked paler and more drawn that previous. I hope he is not ill, I have no need of that above all else, he thought idly.
The two men stood in an antechamber for a moment as Mr Darwin straightened his coat and took a deep breath. Frederick thought to himself, Good God, has the Admiral changed so much for the worse? Before he could speculate further, Darwin opened the door and announced him.
Admiral Locke stood and extended his hand and said, "Captain Wentworth, I am glad to see you well after all these years! Please, be seated. Darwin, bring us some tea." Turning to Wentworth, he said, "Too early and not hot enough for sham, is it not, Captain?"
It heartened Frederick that he would remember their first meeting so well that even what they had drunk was noted. "Yes, sir. Champagne would be a bit out of place just now, I do believe." Having taken the chair the Admiral had indicated, he sat and waited for the Admiral's attention to be focused on the interview.
Taking heed to keep from creasing his coat tails, Admiral Locke sat with great care. He, for a time, sat and rearranged papers on his desk. When things were to his satisfaction, he looked up and smiled, "Well, Captain, how have you been these past years? I must say that I am still most grateful for the service rendered by you. I cannot tell you how that one act helped us so."
Frederick took it to be a good sign that Locke was not embarrassed by his presence nor was attempting to disavow their connection. It would make calling upon the favour cleaner and neater than if the Admiral were endeavoring to distance himself. "I am quite well, sir. I have kept from harm, for the most part." As he said these things, the look upon Locke's face bespoke a genuine interest in the Captain's welfare, another good sign.
"Capital! I am pleased to hear that you are so well. I am glad to know that being put ashore has not made you run mad as some seem to. It is a dreadful business, being put ashore, but it gives a man an opportunity to clear his head and realise how good the sea is to him. Rather like being away from family, gives you the chance to miss them and appreciate their company when you do have it." As the Admiral reeled off his fine speech, he hoped that his eyes didn't give away his true feelings on the matter of family. While absence made some more devoted to family, for Locke it was necessary to the sanity of all concerned! "But, I would not imagine that you have come to give me a report of how well you like being ashore, now have you Captain?"
The Admiral had thought he would make Wentworth enquire about a ship, make him ask the nettling question, but now the Admiral thought that he would be the one to endow benefaction. With no trouble to himself, he would repay one debt and bring the Captain under obligation to him, all with the same set of orders. Orders decided upon and written weeks ago at Whitehall. "I must tell you , Captain, I was shocked to see you on my roster this morning."
"And why is that, sir?"
"I was just thinking of you this past week. I have a commission I think would do well for a man such as yourself. You came immediately to mind. Now, I tell you all this in the strictest of confidence, nothing is final as of yet and if word were to get out that I have said anything, the entire operation could be jeopardised. Might you be interested?"
Frederick Wentworth was not a man ordinarily given to great bursts of emotion, an even temper had served him well over the years, but on this day, he could barely speak so great was the swelling in his throat. Without so much as having to ask, a commission seemed to be coming to him and by the tone of the Admiral's voice, it might just prove to be a plum. "I can assure you, Admiral, I would be most interested. Would it be out of line to ask what the mission might be?"
The Admiral's countenance turned serious. His change in expression came not from any danger nor secrecy required, but that he had not reckoned how to make the assignment sound sufficiently grand when in actuality it would merely require the Captain to keep from doing harm to a very old, very stodgy, very meddlesome admiral being shipped off to Barbados to retire in the sun. Locke pondered how he might allude to Elba or some of the South American rumblings, thereby puffing the consequences of these orders, hoping to do so, sans out and out lying to the Captain.
Not that he had any compunction about lying, he just did not wish to misrepresent Admiralty orders in the event that Wentworth were not happy and began talking to some of those that Admiral Locke knew to be his friends. While Admiral George Croft, the Captain's brother-in-law, was ashore, he was still had the ear of a few highly placed persons in London. Then there was the Captain's particular friendship with Admiral Patrick McGillvary. While Admiral McGillvary himself carried little weight with the Admiralty, just having been made less than two years before, his family did have a pocket-borough outside of Bath. The Admiral did not sit the seat, but the vote was counted upon to help in naval matters when up for a vote in Parliament and it would not due for Locke be spoken of ill by the controller of the vote. Since blustering would not due, appealing to confidentiality would have to work.
"I am afraid, Captain Wentworth, that I must disappoint you. Until the orders are written and a dossier put together, I am not at liberty to say anything more; in fact, I have spoken a bit more freely than I ought, but I know you to be discreet and trustworthy. While I cannot give my word that you particularly will have this commission, please know that I shall do my utmost to see that it be given to you. Any sway that I may possess with those determining this commission's make up, I will use." Though they were alone, the Admiral leaned forward in a confidential manner, and his voice lowered while his face went stonily serious, "I will call up as many favours as necessary to see that you are the man on these orders." All the Admiral hoped was that he was not overplaying his hand; it was time to stop and he could feel it. Straightening, he brightened. "If this comes about as I believe it will, I am in hope that this might, in some small way, begin to repay the debt that my family and I owe you, Captain. I long to see you rewarded for the great service that you rendered us those years ago."
Both men sat for a moment, both counting their good fortune. The Admiral, using orders already written; just needing dates amended; would put an end to his naggings about owing Captain Wentworth any favours. Captain Wentworth, owing to Providence, thinking on the orders which had come to him out of the blue and for what seemed a rather important commission.
The Captain was the first to come out of his reverie and speak, "I must tell you, Admiral, I was not in any way expecting such good fortune today. I think you have cheered me more than I have a right to."
"Captain, I am always glad to see the deserving rewarded. And I think this will more than reward you. By the bye, what was it that you had exactly come to speak with me about? It seems you have had no chance to say, I have quite overtaken the entire conversation." Keeping a smile on his face, Admiral Locke touched the bell and looked sharply to the door; Darwin had never brought the tea and that was not pleasing to the Admiral.
Standing, Frederick extended his hand and said, "Sir, what we have talked of more than covers the concern which brought me here in the first place. I wish to thank you for allowing me your time." The gentlemen shook hands and the Captain, setting aside the insistence that Darwin show him out, was out of the Admiral's presence in a very short time.
Leaning back in his chair, Admiral Locke pulled the sailcloth packet with the Frederick's orders from under a file. Taking out the orders again, he thought, Change the date from January to today . . . no, better yet, Wednesday. That will make it look as though I had some convincing to do. "Darwin! Darwin, come in here now!"
As soon as Darwin entered the office, the Admiral remembered that tea had not been brought. "Where was the tea, Darwin?"
"Sir, there is quite a lot of confusion in the mess area and I was not able to obtain any hot water, and then I had some documents to take round to other offices. I am sorry, sir. Shall I get it for you now?"
The Admiral's good mood did away with his desire to punish Mr Darwin. He would allow the fellow this one misstep, but Heaven help him if it happened again. "No, Darwin. I shall not take any now, perhaps later. Right now, you must take these orders to the copyist and have the dates changed to reflect Wednesday, not the dates in January. I will want that ready as soon as it can be accomplished. Then it is to be sealed again and sent, by marine, to Captain Wentworth. You know where he is? He told me no different, so I assume we can find him?"
Taking the orders and the packet, Darwin looked at the address, "Yes, sir. Somerset. A Kellynch Hall. I shall have done with that directly, sir." Leaving the Admiral's office, Darwin mused that he was merely changing the dates on Captain Wentworth's orders, though all the orders that morning made him exceedingly nervous; the Admiral's authority was rather limited since that last bout with Whitehall. All he could hope was that he would not be taken down were the Admiral found out. Perhaps his penchant for keeping a diary might just save him, should the need arise. Leaving Captain Wentworth's orders with the copyist, Mr Darwin walked slowly back to his office, all the while thinking about how badly Captain Hunston had taken his loss of the Galaxy.
As Mr Darwin mused about the Admiral's questionable actions, Frederick made his way back to the inn, musing that this was the first bit of business he had conducted in quite some time which had gone his way. Perhaps things in his life would be coming back to a more even keel.
Harkness opened the door for the Admiral and Mrs Croft. She had given him a quick nod as she passed; the monologue to her husband took no pause and she moved quickly to the sitting room. The Admiral moved with more deliberation and in handing his hat and cane to the man enquired as to the state of the house and the staff. He knew his reasons for chatting with Harkness had more to do with taking a rest from his wife than any genuine concern for the welfare of those to do with Kellynch.
He went on, they would take tea in the sitting room and would he take Captain Wentworth their compliments; would he pray come down at his earliest possible convenience. "Captain Wentworth is not here, sir. He has not been even in the district since Tuesday last and not expected back until Thursday." Harkness saw the Admiral's displeasure instantly.
"He has been gone since Tuesday?" The Admiral's tone of voice was reminiscent of Captain Wentworth's the previous Monday.
"Yes, sir. He arrived unexpectedly on Monday afternoon, he freshened from the road, wrote three letters to be posted and wanted only a modest dinner. He departed very early the next morning with word of his return this coming Thursday. He mentioned business in Plymouth, but no more. And he specified no particular time to look for him." There was much talk among the tradesmen and serving class about all the bustling at Uppercross because of the wedding. It had begun with a large breakfast the morning that the Captain had left, and there were two other large affairs in the offing, not to mention all the sewing that was being hired out, but Harkness determined that the Admiral need not hear all the local gossip.
"Well, please bring the tea." The Admiral turned and stalked into the sitting room. His wife was installed in her favourite chair, looking more relaxed than he had seen her in days. He inwardly winced to think how soon that was to end.
"I hope that you have asked that Frederick come down immediately. This nonsense must be taken care of before it goes any further." Sophy Croft smoothed the front of her gown as she again thought about how ridiculous it was that her brother should throw himself away on one of the Musgrove girls. A man of his mind must not waste himself so. Looking back up, she saw that the Admiral was pouring himself a brandy. "Surely the trip was not so bad that you need brandy this early, George?"
"This is not for me, my dear. This is for you. Frederick is not here. He is away. Harkness said he mentioned Plymouth." Croft walked over to his wife and handed her the brandy. She took it and held it for a moment.
"Has the boy taken a blow to the head and not told anyone? What is he doing? First he dallies about with a nice but silly farm girl, then he hares off when she is injured; for weeks, he closets himself with our brother, leaving me no word. Now he announces that he will marry the girl and when we arrive to talk sense to him, he is back at the beginning, run off again!" Sophy put by the brandy without so much as a sip. She rose and walked to the French doors which looked over the pleasure park. The weather was bright without being sunny, but it belied the mood of Kellynch Hall.
Since the arrival of Frederick's letter on Thursday, there had been no other conversation with his wife. She had surprised him with her vehemence. Her disapproval of Louisa Musgrove had taken him unawares also. He had always found the two Musgrove girls to be lovely and quite suitable for any man of Frederick's 'standing.' His wife was most definitely not in agreement. As he stood musing, Sophy had begun to catalogue the girl's deficiencies. After such a long ride by post and his gout acting out, George Croft was determined not to allow any more.
"Sophia, this is enough. I have listened as you have taken this poor girl apart, stem to stern and it is enough." He walked over to his wife and drew her back to her chair. Sitting her down and drawing another seat close, he continued, "Now Louisa Musgrove may not be what you would choose for your brother, but he did . . . tut, tut, tut, . . . allow me to finish," he said as she opened her mouth the jump in. "The girl is not big enough to beat a proposal out of him, he did it of his own will." The Admiral looked down as he pondered going on. He had listened for days as she had gone over the matter, he telling her nothing of his thoughts, but now that they were nearing the date and would be seeing the Musgroves in person; she must know his mind. Taking her hand, he began, "My dear, I know that you have an idea of the kind of woman that Frederick needs. You felt the same way about Edward. Your first visit with Catherine was not what you had hoped, but now by writing, the two of you are very amiable. Frederick has asked Louisa Musgrove to be his wife, she has accepted him and I dare say that it will be a good match. She is but twenty and will grow to suit him, more so than if she were older." They looked at one another. He hoped she would take his words and be done with the matter. If he were to go on, anything he might say would be painful for her to remember.
"But George, she is so young and her accident shows how foolish she is . . . and . . . who knows what damage there may yet be? Things that may not make themselves known for quite some time. This is a bad business and I do not wish to see my brother . . . duped."
"Firstly, Sophia. I don't think the Musgroves to be that kind of people. Her parents are not the kind of people that would ensnare a man for their daughter, knowing her to be too hurt to function. Secondly, there were those in my family who felt the same way about you. Young and foolish were words we heard for years, do you not remember?"
Sophia had not been so young when they had married; twenty-three was not too young, but when your husband is a good twenty years older and his family is all much older than yourself, twenty-three is like a child. She had been welcomed by his mother, but few others and there had been spiteful whispers concerning her reasons for marrying a much older man. They had gone on for quite some time. Enduring such a thing had made them hold fast to one another, it had been part of the reason she had taken to going to sea with him. His family could not watch her with suspicious eyes and hope to catch her in a compromise. But the situation with Miss Musgrove was different.
"George, that does not signify in this. I do not question Louisa Musgrove's integrity, I just feel that she is not . . . " Sophia Croft was loath to say it, but she felt the girl was not good enough for Frederick. How pompous it sounded when given voice. It was not as if Frederick were a scholar of such superior mind that he would find no interest with her at all. "He should marry someone more his . . . temperament."
"Really, Sophia! Frederick is a rather high spirited man and if there is anyone about here of that kind it would be one of the Musgrove girls! While I am sure that he is able to converse about rather deep ideas, he is not a philosopher by trade and is more likely to ride and hunt than ponder the unponderable. In that, I think the Musgrove girl is well-suited to him." He could see that she was not accepting his arguments, and that his patience with the matter was drawing to an end. "The material point in all of this, my dear is . . . will you accept the girl or no? Will you divide the family by causing a fracas, or will you do the civil and accept Frederick's choice in a wife?"
She sat quietly, she knew him to be right. There was a helpless feel to the whole matter. "I just think that he might have chosen differently, he. . . had other choices." They exchanged knowing looks. Another old conversation which had come to nothing.
"Had there been interest there my dear, a signal would have been hoisted. He might have changed tack, but no such thing happened. Best leave that. When he does return, don't dun him. Let him live his life. Come, let's go up and change from these travelling clothes." He helped his wife to her feet. She put her arms around his neck and they stood quietly for a time.
"I only want him to be happy, George," she said into his lapel.
"I know, my dear. But that will be entirely up to him."
They parted and slipping his arm about her waist, the walked slowly up to their room.
At the same time that Captain Wentworth was securing his escape back to the sea, his brother was feeling the fetters of his own situation tightening around him.
Reverend Edward Wentworth was normally a patient man, normally a man not given to fits of temper and pique. But the past few days had tried him beyond his endurance. Coming into his study without his wife, Catherine hearing him, he sat in his chair and laid his head on his arms. Early the previous week, he had been summoned to Bramford Hall, family seat of the Vernon's. Through a long and complicated set entails and fulfillments, the property now rested in the hands of the seventh generation, Pollard Vernon Levant.
Levant's grandmother had held the property passed to her from her father. She had married young and unwisely, but the man had been killed while engaged in a highly suspect bout of judicial combat, leaving her with one child. This had been Pollard's father.
Because of the odd timing of the grandmother's death and Pollard's father's, there had been a bit of froth from some once removed cousins, but they had decided not to pursue the matter when it was determined that the place had not covered its own expenses for years and that the ground itself seemed to be prone to moulds and creeping vines that choked the life out of anything planted for profit.
Pollard Levant had carried on much as any son of a careless man, in a careless fashion. He had gone to University and eventually came away with what might be loosely termed an education; he had lived beyond his allowance and had caused more than one girl's family to pack her up and send her out of his reach. Pollard was neither pleased nor revulsed by his own ways, he just gave them very little thought. He had had very little in the way of manly training, his father having been in the Army and his living so much of the time with his grandmother. His mother had died while delivering a younger sister who had not lived but a fortnight. While Pollard did not mind his own ways very much, he did mind not having as much as he would like. When possession of Bramford Hall had come to him, his first order of business was to see how much ready money he could find. To his delight, he found that his grandmother, while a shrewd woman was also a woman who possessed a heart, which meant that there were many, far and wide who were indebted to her. This was the exact circumstance with Reverend Wentworth.
Sarah Emily Vernon Levant had performed her responsibilities as the patroness of Crown Hill with a vengeance. She had looked after the small dame's school overseen by Tabby Merton, the poulterer's widow. In exchange for one free education, (always given to a worthy young man), Mrs Levant saw that the reading books were not only sturdy but of the proper Calvinistic sensibilities. Her watchful eye saw to it that whoever was doctoring had the benefit of a private subscription journal that she received quarterly from London. Her offense had been great when that raffish Dr Abernathy had graciously thanked her but proceeded to declare the primary author a quack and a money grubber. But more than anything else, Sarah Levant felt the keen obligation of seeing that the parish pulpit was filled with the proper sort of clergyman.
Over the years, there had been various types of men behind the rostrum of Crown Hill Parish. Reverend Chester Eccles had been a good preacher, but his weight had brought about complications. Custom-made surplices had to be ordered from Shrewsbury and then there had been that embarrassing episode concerning that weak bit of flooring found during the Halliwell christening. The Reverend Daniel Dunston had made a fine preacher, a wonderful voice, fine turn of phrase; the man practiced his sermons so that they were perfect every Sunday morning. The only problem was that he practiced on the hill near the carriageway by the rectory. His wonderful voice would resonate over the roadway so that anyone passing could hear what was to be proclaimed the following day. To those of a mind to listen, did one of two things; the pious listened well and then felt justified in staying home abed the next day because they knew what was to be preached or the sinner listened and studiously avoided church that next morning, also knowing what was to be preached. The tithes had sunk to an alarming level and Reverend Dunston had moved on. Previous to Reverend Wentworth, there had been Reverend Milton Saxon. Reverend Saxon had also been an excellent clergyman, if one were willing to dismiss his tendency to forget Sundays. The first time it had happened, he had ridden out to the Tedlow farm and waited patiently for the family, knowing that they had surely forgotten the appointed meeting time and would return soon. They had returned home, only after the services at the church were ended by fervent prayers for the safe return of the Reverend and the singing of an appropriate hymn. The same had happened enough times that the rumblings brought the notice of the Church Authorities. And so, Reverend Milton having many family members who watched out for his interests, was soon appointed to a rather esteemed position assisting the Bishop in Shrewsbury. In Shrewsbury they did not seem to take any notice of his untimely absences.
Reverend Milton had left them in December of 1813 and in January of the following year, Mrs Levant was determined that a clergyman of sense would be her next choice. She had visited a friend in Glencoe parish one Sunday and had been impressed that the curate was not a young man who had one eye on the young ladies and the other on the clock. She had first noticed him because he was not a young man at all. He had moved about unobtrusively and when the service was ended, the man had gone about ordering prayer books and straightening things that had been put out of order. Enquiring as to his identity, she had found willing sources that informed her that he was Edward Wentworth, he was very old and was in possession of his orders, but chose to serve under men he had read and admired rather than take a pulpit. That had been odd to her and she had quizzed him about it when they had finally met. His answer had pleased the old lady and she had decided then and there to offer him the living of Crown Hill. He had smiled and thanked her most kindly, but had thought it best that he remain under the Reverend of Glencoe just now, not being certain that he was ready to take a parish of his own. At this, the woman had let out a hoot and told Reverend Wentworth that at his advanced age, he best do it now before he was serving the Lord God Almighty himself--in Heaven, for he would surely be dying soon! The curate could see the wisdom in this and after a week or two of reflection, had accepted the calling. There had never been a formal agreement, no documents and no money had changed hands. For a man who at one time had made his living giving and receiving receipts for human beings and doing well enough at it to prosper heavily, he had not taken the same care in this transaction.
In October Mrs Levant had died unexpectedly and in two weeks, her son had joined her in death. All the lady's material goods were naturally to go to her son and this had been the plan being followed by her lawyers. When her son had died, there had been questions as to the beneficiary. The rightest legal claim was that of Pollard, he was most directly descended of the old woman and therefore the best claimant, but questions had been raised as to whether Mrs Levant had made promises and perhaps even a new will. After a few weeks of churning, with not the slightest hint of a newer testament, things had been settled in favour of Pollard.
Not caring for the country, the new Master of the Hall had determined to stay in town and raise what Cain he had time for, having all the fun he was able before trudging off to Bramford with all the inherent responsibilities. But now it was February and Pollard was installed in the Hall and looking to whom he might canoodle a repayment from. His first touch had been Edward Wentworth.
Since the living had always, more or less been bestowed by Mrs Levant without any expectation of payment, Edward had never felt any apprehension when he had said the proper words over the mortal remains of Sarah Levant. But apprehension was now his constant state since his first visit with Pollard Levant. The very Monday after his brother had left them, a note requesting his presence had arrived at the rectory. Expecting that Mr Levant would wish to renew the tacit agreement that had been between Mrs Levant and himself, Edward had trotted happily to Bramford Hall, much like a lamb to its final resting place--the plate. Mr Levant had been quite polite, but rather insistent that there must be some sort of payment, the living was too valuable an asset to go untapped. Edward had countered with the fact that Mrs Levant had despised the practice of selling a calling of God and that she had chosen to give it to him. This had not touched Mr Levant. The young man had pointed out that Crown Hill would soon be in the way of benefitting from the new foundry going in down by the river and that would bring the tithes up, hence a more worthy parish. The first meeting had ended coldly, Mr Levant knew that he had the advantage in that the living was now his to bestow where he might. Edward had nothing and was not certain what he might do. There had been vague figures mentioned, but they had always changed and were never the same from statement to statement. This second meeting was worse, Mr Levant was now talking of advertising and spreading the news of an opening. Edward was in a stew, there was no money to be had, not in such a quantity anywise. He could not share this with Catherine as things were suspect with her pregnancy just now and the fear on his part was that this news would do them both harm. His best wager was to pray and allow God to act, it was also the only thing he was really able to do.
As he sat with his head down, Catherine came into the room, "You have a letter . . . it is from Frederick," she said quietly.
Raising his head, he took it and was thankful that it was only one sheet and would not cost him so much; then upon examining it, found that the dear boy had franked it and that it would cost them nothing. Upon opening and reading it, his thankfulness changed to disappointment and anger. The news of the wedding was not met with joy on the part of Edward Wentworth.
"He is to marry her."
"Miss Musgrove, you mean?"
"Yes. Miss Musgrove."
Catherine was reluctant to say anything about the matter. Since her opinion was not that of her husband, it had always been met with a chilly eye. Edward had spoken of Frederick's divided heart, the fear of faithlessness of the mind and the humiliation that would come to the girl from not being loved by her husband. In her heart, Catherine suspected that it all came down to Edward's deep desire to only see his brother happy. They both knew that happiness for Frederick was tied to one Miss Anne Elliot. Though Catherine believed there were other possibilities.
"It says here that the wedding is to be in a fortnight." Turning the letter and looking at the post mark, he exclaimed, "That scrub! He mailed this Tuesday! He hoped there would be no time for me to come. He in fact says that there is no need." Reading the letter again, he snorted, "I'll wager he is afraid that were I to come, I would try and talk him out of such an abominable scheme. Well, he is right on that score," he said nearly to himself.
Catherine had stood and listened. Watching his face flush and contort as he read and reread the letter. While she knew any interjection on her part would be useless, she tried. "Tell me again why this is such a bad scheme."
With an exaggerated dropping of his hand holding the letter, Edward looked at her with mock stupidity. "He does not love her, he is so tied up inside with Miss Elliot that this marriage will be wrecked before it begins and he will wind up humiliating this poor girl no end. No! I must go and stop him."
"And how do you propose doing that? Shall you forbid him? He is rather too old for that." As she spoke, all the talk of this possibility and how horrible it would be found its way to Catherine's tongue and she was determined to say, just this once, all that she thought. "Or perhaps you might tie him up and hide him somewhere until he comes to his senses. Better yet . . . ," her eyes narrowed with irony, "Perhaps you should tell . . . " She stopped herself before she could voice such a dreadful thought. Perhaps you should tell Miss Musgrove of Frederick's heart and she will abandon the wedding! Catherine was surprised at her own vehemence. She was not at all convinced that the marriage was terrible and felt that of all involved, it was Miss Musgrove's feelings which were being ignored the most. To tell that poor girl such an awful thing about a man she held in enough regard to marry would be criminal.
"Perhaps I should tell who . . . what?"
Scrambling to find something to say, Catherine stuttered out, "Perhaps you . . . should tell, Frederick . . . to . . . try harder and learn to love this girl." She knew that her husband would notice the slip and waited for him to say something.
"I doubt he would be able to. He's not thinking very clearly in any of this and I don't think he wishes to hear that old song again." Edward looked back at the letter and folding it, put it in his drawer.
He had not noticed her slip. Normally he would have seen it and asked her to tell him what she really meant. Edward was a man who very much disliked people saying one thing when they genuinely thought another. "I think I will go and do some hand work in the sitting room, I find I'm rather tired just now." Quickly kissing the top of Edward's head, she left the room before he could continue on about Frederick's predicament.
As she walked to the sitting room, she mused that she was doing that more lately, just in the last weeks since Frederick's departure. She was more cross and given to closeting herself away with her needlework. Edward too was preoccupied. He had received a note from Bramford Hall several days ago and since visiting Pollard Levant as requested, he had been pensive and inattentive. Not only to her, but to everyone. At dinner with the Junkins, he had to be roused to converse several times and they had come home early as he was no fit company. Church was the only place that she had not seen the distraction, though as soon as he was in the house, it had overtaken him. As the rector's wife, she knew there were many things he would never share with her, family secrets too delicate and dangerous for anyone other than a man of God to know. Perhaps this was the case with Pollard Levant. Such things had never bothered her in the past, but this . . . this had a different quality to it and she was troubled by his continued preoccupation.
Leaning into the room, Edward said to her, "I shall leave early tomorrow morning. If I am lucky, I can get to Somerset before the wedding. I am going up to pack a case, now."
Looking up from her embroidery, she asked, "Will you grant me a favour?"
Expecting that she needed him to fetch her something, he came fully into the room. "Certainly, what do you need?"
"I need you to think on something as you travel to the wedding." Laying aside the needle and thread, she looked him fully in the eyes. "Firstly, you have gone through too much torment to lose Frederick to a quarrel about this and secondly, a gentle answer turns away wrath, will you please think on these things? . . . for me?" The whole of her heart was pleading with him as she said this. She knew she could not stop his going, but perhaps she could give him other thoughts to occupy his mind rather than the composing of angry arguments that could only foul the situation worse.
Relaxing his shoulders and allowing a small smile to his lips, he came to sit next to her. Taking her in his arms, he said, "I shall . . . for you. I know that we do not see this the same and perhaps it is time that I listen to you about it. One thing is sure, I will have much time to think." Keeping her close to him, they sat quietly until Catherine broke the silence.
"I would like one more thing. If they have no plans, bring them here, I wish to meet her." The request was simple and there was no dispute on Edward's part.
Giving her a quick kiss on the cheek, he stood and said lazily, "Well, I shall think on the things you have said and if there is nothing that they must immediately do, I shall ask them to come . . . that is . . . if they are married at all." He looked at her with a raised brow. They both knew that one of them would lose this disagreement, the only question was, who?
James Benwick stared at the fire, deep in thought. Taking the last drink of the brandy that had been shared as Captain Wentworth had told of his engagement, he put the glass back on the shelf that held a few cordials. Harville returned from seeing their friend to the door. The two men stood and looked at one another for a moment.
Harville spoke first. "I am astonished. When he left here in November, he had been quite firm in his protestations having to do with Miss Musgrove. But now . . ."
Benwick shook his head and took his chair by the fire. Staring again at the flames, he pondered the entire exchange. There had been something in the Captain's manner which had bothered him. There was a familiarity about it which had put Benwick to thinking. It had suddenly come to him that Wentworth's manner had been very much the same when he had come to tell James of Fanny Harville's death. He carried himself the same and there was the same tightness in his jaw. "But now he is to marry her. I must say that I also am surprised. While their conduct last fall was . . . intimate, I thought that once he had departed, all idea of an attachment had been laid to rest." Taking up a fid which sat on the book shelf as a decoration, James let it slide through his encircled thumb and forefinger until its large end filled the space.
He thought again how the Captain having left Miss Musgrove without an idea of his whereabouts nor an idea about his return, all efforts had been used to draw her mind in other directions. The efforts had been successful and in just a few weeks, Miss Musgrove acted as if the Captain had never been important to her in any way. As this had happened, James Benwick had taken to helping to occupy the girl. He had read to her and when Louisa was able, he had walked with her. They had been comfortable together and for a short time, James had pondered the idea of pursuing an attachment. The thought had been short-lived as he came to realise that other than trying to salve his own pained emotions, he had no business raising the girl's hopes again.
"For a man telling us about his engagement to quite a nice girl, he acted as if he were bearing bad news," James mused aloud.
While Frederick's countenance had not bespoken raptures, Timothy knew Wentworth to be reserved about personal matters, more like himself. James being so romantic, held great store by outward signs of emotions. "So, what do you mean, he looks as though he were bearing bad news?"
"He looked that way when he rowed out to the Grappler to tell me of Fanny." Benwick looked into the fire thinking about that wretched day and how his life had ever been changed by the few little words that his friend and former captain had brought him.
Timothy hobbled over to his chair, his leg had been giving him worse fits than usual these past weeks. Sitting heavily in the chair, he sighed in relief. Taking up his glass of brandy, he took a small sip, savoring the slight burn of the occasional indulgence. "Don't allow yourself to be weighed down with the memories, James."
It was a warning that was kindly meant, Benwick did allow lowness to creep upon him now and again. "No, I was just remembering how even before he said a word, I knew there was something tragic about to befall me. I had no idea how tragic, but just his presence spoke volumes." Commander Benwick had never told his friend any particulars about the week that Wentworth had cared for him. There had been times that it had been as though they were parent and child; other times had been as though they were gaoler and prisoner, each had occupied both offices. Most of the time had been deadly quiet. His small cabin of the brig did not afford much space, even with Wentworth occupying a smaller cabin knocked together by the carpenter and spending as much of the days with James as James would allow. Wentworth had always left a Marine on guard outside the cabin door with orders to look in every quarter hour. And so this had made up the oppressive days of the small, crowded cabin, fug and hot in August. The quiet had made the cabin shrink, but Wentworth had been afraid to allow Benwick out. There had been times that James had muttered disturbing and accusatory words, all direct at himself. The fear of self harm was not far from either captains' mind. "I knew things were not right, he had hired a bum boat. He could have surely gotten loan of a barge from any number of captains in port. And then he came up the larboard with no salute. My first had warned me there was a stern-faced captain headed our way and so I was prepared, but when I recognised him, I was quite at ease, until I saw how he was coming aboard. No attention drawn to himself. Then I knew . . ."
"Now that you say that, he looks just as he did after I told him about Fanny. After he had volunteered to go to you. Damnable business. I regret not having the courage to tell you myself. Frederick offered and I was so grief stricken that I accepted without thinking. What a terrible thing to do to a friend." Timothy Harville's statement did not tell which thing was so terrible nor which friend he meant. The two men sat quietly, watching the fire and thinking.
James gave himself over to thoughts of Fanny. He had become aware that his grief was easing, not a great deal, but enough to notice. The ache that had come upon learning of his fiancee's death did not make itself known upon waking and stay until sleep came, as it had for so many months. There were times he shocked himself with the realisation that he had not thought of her for hours, that he had read and laughed with the Harville children or gone for a walk alone without the dull grieving ache.
As Benwick occupied himself with thoughts of a philosophical turn, Timothy Harville thought about Captain Wentworth's offer. Frederick was certain that he was returning to sea, and soon. He had asked Harville, if it were possible, could he join the crew as First Officer.
As Harville had shown Wentworth out, the Captain had motioned him out the front door, closing it behind, he had asked, "Well, Timothy, do you think you can still make it up an accommodation ladder?"
Harville had looked at him with a cocked head, for it was a strange question to ask. "I suppose I could, yes I know I could. Why do you ask?"
"I am certain to return to sea and should be receiving orders very soon. I have no idea what ship, nor any idea of the mission, but I do know that I wish you to join me as my First. Since you are a full captain in your own right, you will have to volunteer. Take a leave of absence and all." Seating himself on a large coil of rope, Frederick had looked hopefully to his friend.
"But Frederick, I would still be on half pay and then gone into the bargain. I'm not certain that would be to Elsa's liking. I'm not certain it is to mine!" Despite his protestation, Timothy Harville longed to be at sea again. And to stand on a quarterdeck under the command of Frederick Wentworth again more than he could have hoped for. Not only because of Frederick's uncanny good fortune when it came to seizing prize, but volunteering would take the Admiralty's eyes from his injury and onto his willingness to serve the Crown. Then perhaps he could have hope of a ship again. His time on shore had been good. He had healed further from his wounds, he had been with his family and mostly, he had been with Elsa.
His wife had always amazed him, her fortitude in living the life of a seaman's wife. It was hard and lonely, but she only grew finer in the bargain. She had endured the long separations, even having one of their children without him knowing she was expecting. She had nursed his sister through her illness and ultimate death, she had seen him injured and thrown ashore at half pay with no certain knowledge that things would ever be better. No, he was grateful that he had been home with her.
"Your pay will be full-pay, I shall see to that and while I cannot promise any prize, I am certain that we will have some opportunities to enrich ourselves; things always seem to present themselves." As he had said this, he had given Harville a meaningful look. He had yet to take a cruise without having something to tow home and present to the prize court.
Timothy smiled, Frederick's confidence was very nearly as alarming as it had been years ago, when they were both much younger and much hungrier for prize. As a point of curiosity, he asked, "When did all this occur? You were just put ashore in September. It seems odd that you should get something so soon when there are others going begging."
"Well, to tell the truth . . ." Frederick stopped. He still felt deceitful in the whole of the matter. It bothered him that he could use the unfortunate circumstances of the Locke family to wheedle himself a command just so he could leave his own unfortunate circumstances behind. "To tell you the truth, Timothy, I am a little surprised myself, but before we go rejoicing too much, I have no idea what ship I will have nor the assignment. This may just be the sail that cops me, who can tell?"
Timothy laughed a little at the sentiment of his friend. "You are not generally given to such brown thoughts, my friend. No, I imagine you will have a long and profitable career, no being knocked on the head for you. You'll hoist your flag one day, mark my words! That is why I will give you a yes to this proposal. I will speak with Elsa, but I am certain she will see the advantage of doing this." He stood for a moment, then smiled at his friend with a pleased, open look, "G-d, Frederick, to be at sea again! I don't mind telling you, I had despaired of it ever happening for me."
They had continued to talk for a few moments. They made the plans necessary to travel to Uppercross the next day, haggling over the cost of a rig. Harville allowed Frederick to win and pay for everything. Only because Frederick wished it and because it would be a strain for the Harvilles.
He stared out of his thoughts and stared at James for a moment. "Oh! I'm sorry, I was thinking on something else, what did you say."
Benwick chuckled, he loved Timothy Harville like a brother, but the man was not often given to deep reflection and it amused him to see his friends gaping expression at being disturbed. "I said, when do we leave in the morning? Must I pack now, or can it wait?"
Timothy thought for a moment, so many things had been discussed and he had to search his mind to remember what time had been set. "You will have time in the morning, we will not be leaving until after noon sometime. Frederick is coming to breakfast and will have all arranged by then." There was one other thing that needed saying before the morning. "James, Frederick has asked me to stand with him . . . at the wedding. I know that in some ways the two of you are closer, but he thought . . . well it being a wedding and with Fanny and all, he did not want to . . . "
"I understand. And as for him and I being closer, it is the two of you that are great seafaring men, not me! I think he likes me because I amuse him."
Timothy was intrigued, James always had an interesting way to view things and this might prove to be one of them. "What do you mean that you 'amuse' him?"
"Oh, he enjoys puzzles and riddling, word games and the like. I always try to have something new to keep him attentive. But his mood this evening did not lend itself to any such play. No matter, it will be good to see our old friends from Uppercross again. Not that it's been all that long. I wonder if Miss Anne will be there? I long to talk to her about some of those books she told me of." He was eager to speak with Miss Elliot, not only to express his gratitude, but to talk again with someone who seemed to genuinely understand his grief.
"No, I doubt it. She had been gone to Bath by the time Elsa and I escorted Louisa Musgrove home. She is not related, except by friendship and I do not think that the Musgroves would wish her to be rattling about the terrible roads this time of year. Though . . . Frederick expects us to!" Both men looked at one another and laughed at the irony.
Edward awakened to the jostling of the coach. It was not well-sprung and had proven to be in worse condition than his gig at home. Blinking his eyes to adjust to the light, he leaned forward and watched the countryside bounce and lurch by. Checking his watch, he saw it to be nearly ten in the morning. It was Wednesday. He had been travelling and entire day and was feeling it. His sleep had been fitful, not restful in the least. As now, awakening always brought thoughts of why he had left his wife alone, why he had paid the outrageous sum to travel south and why he felt so strongly about his brother's marriage. Leaning against the hard back of the seat, laying back his head, he let his mind wander, allowing his thoughts to move freely.
Here I am, rattling along . . . alone. And I'm going to save my brother from what? A loveless marriage? All marriages are loveless at times. I am not all together certain that Catherine loves me just now. And how do I help her to decide? I go chasing away after Frederick . . . leaving her. Oh God, watch out for her and the little one. I know she has not told me all that the midwife has said. She knows me too well, I'll consume myself with worry, so she will do it for me. I suppose that is what I want for my brother, a marriage in which the two willingly sacrifice for one another . . . but what sacrifice have I made? I am here and Catherine is alone. And there is nothing to say that Miss Musgrove is not just like Catherine. All I know from Frederick is that she is not Miss Anne. Miss Anne . . . what is to say she even cares for him? He said nothing about any partiality on her part. No matter, this whole affair must be stopped, he cannot go on with this. I will do my best to convince him to go to Mr Musgrove and call this off. I will stand with him through it. There will be hurt feelings to be sure . . . and raised voices to be sure. No Wentworth will be allowed to breathe in Somerset after this . . . and Sophia and the Admiral will no doubt have to give up their house. Though knowing them . . . I wonder, did he send one of those addled letters to Sophia? If so, there is the chance she has done the work for me, though he would be in a sorry state after she had finished. But then, perhaps she and the girl are good friends. Then if he were to end this in such a disgraceful manner he would have not only the Musgroves, but his own sister to deal with. Good God, there is no end to this! I must stop ruminating, and just try and be still . . .
"Mary, please hold still! I do not wish to stick this pin into you!"
"Oh, very well. But could you please get on with it, Anne? I have never had a fitting take so long!"
And I have never fitted a dress to anyone before, Sister, and I shall thank you to remember that! Anne took a deep breath. Arguing with Mary got one nowhere. "I appreciate your patience. My fingers are a little sore and I am unused to this task."
"I do not see why. Sewing is sewing, is it not?"
"Mary, hemstitching handkerchiefs and embroidering table linens is far different from this! Could you please turn this way? Thank you."
The clock chimed the hour. "Oh, come along, Anne! I need time to dress and run up to the Mansion before it is time to leave. Louisa is having her final fitting today and I do not want to miss out! Please!"
"I am almost finished here. Just five minutes more, I promise." Anne's quiet, gentle tone of voice belied her exasperated thoughts. And I do mean finished! Never again, Sister-dear!
Mary fell silent, studying her reflection in the tall mirror. "Hmmmm. What do you think about this colour, Anne? I liked it well enough when I chose it, but I am not so sure now."
"You do not like the colour, Mary?" Anne mumbled wearily, her mouth full of straight pins. This is a fine time to decide that!
"Oh, it is well enough, I suppose, although I am not at all certain it compliments my hair. I wonder if Louisa's gown will be nicer."
"I hope so, Mary. The bride should always have the prettiest dress."
"Oh yes, of course." Mary remarked absently. "But do you think lilac will look well with her hair? I am not so sure." She made a little face. "Anne, what colour hair would you say Louisa has?"
"Beautiful," Anne said simply. "Turn this way, please."
"No, no! What colour? What does one call that brownish-reddish tone?"
Anne kept working. "I do not know if there is a name, Mary. Her hair is blonde in the summer, for she is often outdoors and forgets to wear a hat. And in the winter it fades to the colour it is now, which I would say is a honey-brown with red highlights. Her blue eyes will look very well with the lilac colour of the gown."
"Oh," Mary grumbled. "I was hoping mine would be as nice."
"It will be, Mary. But the bride is always the loveliest on her wedding day, for she is the happiest! There!" Anne sat back on her heels. "I believe I am finished fitting it. What do you think?"
"Oh, it will be fine, Anne. Help me get it off, now, so that I may get up to the Great House on time." Mary stripped off the dress as quickly as she could, grimacing a little as she encountered some of the pins. "I am still unsure of this blue colour."
"You will look very well in it." And if you had worked with it half as much as I have, Sister, you would hate the sight of cerulean blue as much as I! As it stands, you have done absolutely nothing ... but complain about the fittings! Aloud she said, "Do you not have a necklace with a blue topaz in it? I believe Father gave it to you for your birthday before you were married."
Mary brightened. "Why yes! I had forgotten! Well then, I shall look very grand indeed ... although not so well as Elizabeth in that sapphire gown you were telling me of."
"No, Mary." Anne smiled as she scanned the floor for any stray pins. "No one ever looks as well as Elizabeth. You know that."
"Humph! Do I not! Help me get back into my other dress, then. There are still fifteen minutes remaining and I do not mean to be late!"
Anne assisted her sister into the gown, buttoned her up, helped her to locate her gloves and hat, and waved her out the door of the dressing room. Now, at last, for some peace! She gathered up her supplies, and the cerulean dress, and headed downstairs to the parlor. All I want is a cup of tea, a few minutes' quiet, and perhaps two or three more hours. Then I will be finished. Hallelujah!
A few minutes later, Anne took her seat by the parlor window, ready to finish the hem on Mary's dress. She sipped her tea reflectively. It was Wednesday afternoon; she had very nearly done it. Her fingertips were swollen and sore, and her eyes were a little strained from sewing at night by candlelight, but she felt immensely satisfied with her work on the dress. She smiled as she thought about how much she had learned in the last five days; not all of it was about the art of garment construction.
In the world of romantic novels, which Anne enjoyed reading (when she could lay her hands on one, which was not often), the well-born and beautiful (but recently-impoverished) heroine would typically go to work as a seamstress or as a governess to eke out a living. Her future looked bleak, yet she waited, hoping against hope, that the man of her dreams (unspecified) would one day come, which, of course, he did, and this would comprise the romance of the story. Anne always enjoyed this theme, in all of its variations.
However, reality had come crashing in; she had done both of these jobs this week, at times simultaneously, and she concluded that authors who used this as a plot device had obviously never done this kind of work! It is exhausting and nerve-wracking ... and vastly unromantic! And then, when the broken-hearted, but very eligible (and handsome) young man shows up, the heroine is supposed to whip out her ball gown (fortunately still in style, and not destroyed by moths) and dance the night away, looking so beautiful that she causes him to instantly fall in love with her. Heavens!
Anne took another sip of tea and looked out of the window. What the poor girl would be longing to do ... what I am longing to do ... is sleep the night away instead! She set down her cup and reached for the needle and thread. But then, the man of my dreams is a specific man, and he did not come for me, but found someone else. And I played as they danced ... and fell in love. And now they will be married! What a sad story! Dear me!
Anne had grown much more hardened to the idea of Frederick Wentworth's marriage during these past days, although not so hardened that she sought to visit Louisa again, or to be involved with any of the preparations at Uppercross Hall. Mary's project had been a blessing in disguise, keeping Anne confined and occupied. In the private world of her thoughts she found refuge, and so very gradually accustomed herself to the reality of the coming wedding. Today she found occupation in rather sarcastically poking fun at herself.
Well, if I ever become impoverished (which is not altogether unlikely), I shall never become a seamstress ... I shall never again begrudge spending money to pay a seamstress, either ... I shall write a book, instead! Yes, a heart-rending love story based on my own life! Now how shall I end it? She smiled wryly as she hemmed Mary's dress, searching for the perfect conclusion. Should the heroine die a tragic death, such as a lingering illness or a fall from a cliff? Or flee the country, be captured by pirates and be heroically rescued at sea? (and not by Captain Frederick Wentworth!) Or be forced through financial distress to marry the butcher (who is handsome, naturally) and live out her days working in his shop, swatting flies and waiting on customers? One thing she shall never do, and that is return to Bath to live with her father and sister, condemned to a life of doing absolutely nothing!
She sat back and turned the hemmed portion to the right side, critically surveying her work. She was pleased with what she saw, and resumed stitching the underside. At least I have had plenty to occupy my mind and keep my hands busy. Ah well, my poor heroine and I share the same fate! It was hopelessly foolish to think that Frederick Wentworth would ever renew his addresses to me. It's just that while he remained unmarried, all those years ... She removed several straight pins and replaced them in the pin-cushion ... now I simply must find something new to hope for. She smiled to herself. Hmmmm. I wonder if the butcher in our neighborhood is unmarried ... and handsome?
Edward was beginning his third day travelling. Being thankful that he wore a beard and that clerics are generally thought to be a bit scruffy as a way to keep them humble, he was also thankful to have the coach to himself for once. Being that it was the dead of night and there was nothing to be seen that could capture his mind, he thought about his wife and the baby and Pollard Levant. He had overridden a frightful thought that Levant might present himself to his wife and tell her of their predicament. Knowing that Levant only wanted money and that a rector's wife could do nothing for him, Edward reasoned that the good gentleman would await his return to renew the dunning. A thought struck him, a thought so ironical he could not resist giving it voice in a low, but hearty chuckle. I have spent all this time rambling on about Frederick and his pride and how it has brought him to this wretched state he finds himself, but I am no better! My pride would rather I cut out my tongue than ask either of my brothers for the money I need. My own good opinion has become my god. Watching the stars as the coach bumped along, Edward realised that there were few choices for him, but to ask God's forgiveness of his presumption and go on to be with his brother.
Continued in Part 4
© 1999 Copyright held by author