Love Suffers Long and is Kind
"But Sir, Mrs Croft specifically asked that you remain here until she and the Admiral return from Crewkerne," looking at his watch, Harkness continued, "Which should be any time now." The man continued to brush the Captain's blue coat, paying particular attention to the lace and buttons.
"Yes, Harkness, I heard you the first time you told me. And while I do not wish to disappoint my sister, I have future in-laws to satisfy, which in the grand scheme of things, trumps a sister. If you must, tell her that you had me locked up and I knocked you on the head and managed to escape," he said as he leaned into the mirror and arranged his stock. Standing back and looking at the effect, he pulled his shirt cuffs and waistcoat straight. Taking a look at Harkness in the mirror, he could see that man's slight smile at his jest.
Handing the Captain his sword, he said, "I think I shall forgo the embellishment and merely say that you were expected at Uppercross earlier than formerly thought."
Fastening the buckle, Frederick said, "Thank you, Harkness. I think we understand one another."
The Captain was in a hurry to be off, not that he was looking forward to the coming evening. A simple family gathering with the Musgroves would be difficult, a quiet dinner and then sitting about making polite conversation. Then there would be Louisa to face . . . He was grateful that Benwick and Harville were with him, as they knew the Musgrove family in their own right, they would be useful in carrying some of the evening's weight. He also desired to be out of the house when his sister arrived home. There had always been the expectation that she may attend the wedding regardless of his letter, but was not yet prepared to discuss the matter with her. While the thought of entering a battle with guns blazing and the smell of powder in the air was exciting, the thought of entering into a match with his sister did nothing but cause a roiling in his stomach and a desire to flee. "Is the carriage ready, Harkness?"
"Yessir. It is out front as we speak."
"Good, please tell the other gentlemen that it is time to leave and that I shall meet them at the door" Snatching up his hat from the bed, he went out to the hallway.
"Sir, the gentlemen are downstairs awaiting you. They have been ready for a while now."
"Well, perhaps I am more a peacock than I know. Thank you, Harkness. We shan't be too late, it's just a small party," he called as he went down the stairs.
Harkness stood at the top of the stairs, resigning their care to the footmen. "A small party? The Musgroves? Mmm . . . "
The party from Lyme called at Uppercross Hall expecting a 'simple family party,' as Mrs. Musgrove's note of invitation had termed it; this was not what they found. Before they had even reached the Great House, they heard the sound of a large crowd of people talking and laughing, the shrieks of children playing outdoors, and parents hollering to call them in. Someone was playing a piano, glassware was clattering, a lone dog was barking. Every window in the big house was lit; the main door was open; a cluster of gentlemen smoking cigars stood on the steps.
Captains Wentworth, Harville, and Benwick exchanged startled looks. Dismounting the carriage and leaving it to a groom, they elbowed their way into the main hall through a swarm of well-wishers; everyone around them was gaily chatting, eating, and drinking; Weaving through the rooms and adjoining hallways were running, giggling children, all in a holiday mood. Mrs. Musgrove's pre-wedding dinner was to be held tomorrow, which was Friday. Wasn't this Thursday?
Charles Musgrove hurried over to greet them, pleased to see Frederick Wentworth and anxious to usher them into the center of the festivities. He took their overcoats and hats, depositing them in the cloakroom, among a great many others.
"A simple family party? Oh, lord, Mama's in high gig!" laughed Charles. "Besides, can't remember when we have had a 'simple family party,' ever. Never been done, if you ask me."
He took Captain Wentworth's elbow and brought him into the main room. "The thing is, they are all family, well, most of 'em, anyway. Not all of 'em are here. There's more coming in tomorrow, and a few stragglers Saturday morning, and ..."
He led the way through the throng to the refreshment table. "Never seen such a fuss in all my life; food enough to feed the whole district for a month, kegs of ale and wine and such coming in by the cartload; every servant and seamstress for miles around hired in ... Mary!" He motioned to his wife. "Mary, look who's here!" He turned back to Wentworth. " How about something to drink? Benwick? Harville? Here we are ..."
"Charles ..." Captain Wentworth was in shock. "This is ... I didn't mean ... This was supposed to be simple ..."
"Er, I'm, er, sorry about the circus, Frederick. Papa did mention to Mama that you wanted a small, 'family only' wedding. Er, the thing is, you know, it's hard to keep Mama in bounds, and our family breeds like rabbits, you know; so many of 'em. And anyway," Charles laughed, "we can't expect Mama to quietly celebrate the most important marriage alliance our family has ever had! er ..." He encountered a look from Mary.
"You mean the second most important one, after ours," she put in, "which is the alliance with the Elliots. Good evening, Captain Wentworth."
"Oh, er, of course, after ours." He grinned at Captain Wentworth. "Devilish glad to have you in the family, though," he pounded Frederick on the back, "even if you're not an Elliot! Come an' meet the rest of us!" Charles was in 'high gig' this evening, too.
"Oh, Captain," Mary interrupted; " we are all so pleased to learn of your plans to honeymoon at Kellynch Hall! Such an elegant, romantic setting! We hear that Mrs. Croft has been making special preparations to the front apartment." She gave him a knowing smile.
Wentworth stared at her in horror, a polite smile frozen on his lips. What was this? "Harville," he muttered, casting an agonized look over his shoulder at his friend. "Get me a good, stiff drink. Please. Now!" Charles had him by the elbow again, pulling him along, calling out, "Toby! Edward! I say, come and meet the bridegroom ..." They were swallowed by the throng. Captain Harville went off in search of the drink.
Captain Benwick stood by the refreshment table, as if rooted to the spot, wondering what to do. Run! was his first impulse. Then he became aware that Mary Musgrove had been speaking to him.
"... must be exhausted from your journey, Captain Benwick. I'm sure you are. Let me fix you a plate of food. Do you care for pickled eggs and ham?" She held out the plate. Benwick took it automatically. He despised pickled eggs, but knew better than to tangle with Mary Musgrove. He began eyeing the distant corners of the room, looking for a place to hide himself, while Mary chatted on; "... and we have been in such a tizzy, with all the preparations and so many guests!" Captain Benwick turned back to her, listening politely. She obviously enjoyed 'being in a tizzy'.
" And my poor nerves, for everything has been going wrong! Only just this evening my eldest upset the inkwell on Charles' desk, simply drenching himself and his shirt! Can you imagine? Anne has stayed home to cut and baste together another, which he will need for the wedding ... Oh! Juliana! Did you find the -- excuse me, Captain," She smiled at him and hurried off. Captain Benwick watched her go, frowning over her last remark.
Anne? Her sister, Anne Elliot? Here? No, 'at home'... wherever that is. He set down the plate containing the eggs and looked around the room. Where has Charles Musgrove got to? Ah! Captain Benwick threaded his way through the mob to get more information from him.
A few minutes later he had escaped the Great House and was headed in the direction of Uppercross Cottage, in search of Miss Elliot. He smiled to himself as he strode down the stone walkway. Here was something completely unexpected! He had wanted to speak with her for some time, to thank her for the reading material she had recommended last November.
There was enough moonlight to show him the way; soon he reached the graveled road which would lead him to the cottage. It was growing colder. Captain Benwick dug his hands deep into the pockets of his overcoat, listening to the rhythmic crunch of his boots on the gravel; his thoughts focused on her.
He had meant to come to Uppercross a month or so ago, to visit Charles Musgrove and to see Miss Elliot. Most especially to see Miss Elliot, for he had some questions he wanted to ask her about some of those treatises and writings on suffering. How had she known to choose the ones which had spoken so directly to his pain? He wished he had those books with him now, for he had marked specific passages ---
Captain Benwick stopped in his tracks. Of what was he thinking? To have them now would mean he would have brought books along to the Musgrove's this evening. He smiled. Books to a wedding party. No they are on the shelves at Harville's in Lyme, where they belong. He looked up at the starry sky. Oh Fanny, I am improving, am I not? He used to bring a book (or two) with him wherever he went, until Fanny had cured him of it.
He sighed and resumed walking, more slowly now. Fanny. Even the smallest thought of her brought back the dull ache of disappointment and regret. This was unfortunate, for Fanny herself was a cheerful, friendly girl, and hardly ever sad. And she chose to love me, of all men! I shall never understand it! Benwick heaved another sigh, reminding himself to focus his thoughts on being thankful for her love and for the time they had together. He had been making progress by doing this; his presence at this wedding, his first since her death, showed it. Well, at least I have not brought a book! He kicked at a rock lying on the road.
Wait a minute! A sudden, unwelcome suspicion crossed his mind. Had he left all the books in Lyme? He felt for the inside breast pocket of his uniform. Oh no! He pulled out a slim volume. __________. Captain Benwick smiled in spite of himself. I am hopeless!
Ahead he saw the shadowy form of a large oak; he stopped here to get his bearings. According to Musgrove, once he passed this tree, to his right would be a footpath to the back door of the cottage. He should be able to see a light at the kitchen window. The main entrance was to the left, around the corner of the house, and could be reached by staying on the road; Charles was not sure whether this would be lit tonight since everyone would be at the Great House. Sure enough, Captain Benwick found the path and the kitchen light; looming above it was the dark silhouette of the house.
As he approached the door, Captain Benwick found himself thinking of Anne Elliot again. He smiled at the memory of her gentle smile, and warm brown eyes. There was comprehension in those eyes -- and intelligence. Here was someone he could talk with! She was educated, well-read, and insightful ... and she was kind. Yes, he would be delighted to see her again!
When he raised his hand to knock, Captain Benwick hesitated over Charles' directions. It might be a little awkward that he, a stranger, should come to the back door. Most of the house was dark; perhaps everyone had retired for the night. I'll just check the front entrance to be sure. He skirted the cottage to the left, rounded its corner, and promptly collided with an ancient rhododendron bush in the darkness! Blast! He was now covered with dust and last year's shriveled petal debris! But as he brushed himself off, he noticed that some of the ground floor windows on this side of the house were lit. He gingerly made his way over to them and peered inside.
He found he was looking into some sort of small parlor; a young woman was sitting near a branch of candles, sewing. Miss Elliot! She was bent closely over her work, as if she had to strain to see in the candlelight. Her hair shone chestnut in the rosy light, her complexion glowed. Why, she is lovely! Captain Benwick watched as if spellbound. Then she winced, for she had jabbed herself with the needle; she dropped the garment in her lap and, frowning, put her finger in her mouth. Captain Benwick stepped back from the window and began to make his way to the main door.
Captain Harville snorted in disgust. Hang that Benwick! Where on earth has he gone off to? He had searched the entire ground floor of this rabbit-warren of a house, kitchens and all, with no luck! He was counting on his friend's company tonight, as Frederick Wentworth was kept occupied and he was left on his own. And now he has disappeared! And there is nothing to be done about it!
But ... on the other hand, Captain Harville eyed the refreshment table, which was in the process of being replenished, these Musgroves certainly know how to serve up tasty provisions! He made his way over to the table and picked up another plate. I am just a bit hungry. After all, I need to keep my strength up, for Wentworth's sake. He speared several plump sausages, which were still steaming hot, deciding to make the best of a bad situation. He went on to add a thick slice of ham, two rolls, and a generous helping of pie. Maybe I'll just bide my time a bit before worrying about Benwick.
Anne drew back the bolt and opened the heavy front door herself; all of the household staff were working up at the Great House tonight and she had stayed behind with the sleeping children. She had carried a candle with her and had set it on the hall table; it lit the entryway only dimly. Who in the world would come ...? She blinked. Before her on the threshold stood a rather short, solidly built man with smiling brown eyes and a pleasant face. The front of his greatcoat was open, showing a naval officer's uniform. Anne hesitated. He looked familiar but she didn't know why.
"Good evening, Miss Elliot," the man said, a little shyly. He removed his hat, revealing dark curly hair. "Good heavens! Captain Benwick!" Anne gladly welcomed him in. Soon they were both sitting in the small parlor before the fire, reminiscing about their days in Lyme and speaking of Louisa's remarkable progress toward recovery.
Anne had forgotten what a comfortable, unpretentious fellow Captain Benwick was. When he learned that she had not yet had supper, he modestly suggested they "launch a boarding party and do a little raiding" in the kitchen. A few minutes later the "freebooters" were back in the parlor with a tray loaded with "plundered" food and the tea things.
Benwick carefully balanced his plate on his lap while watching Miss Elliot pour out. This room was cozy and warm, with firelight dancing off the walls and ceiling; a welcome change from the cold outside. And the company was delightful! She seemed truly happy to see him; the little frown she had worn while he had seen her through the window had disappeared. He searched for a way to tell her of his gratitude.
"Miss Elliot, I am so pleased to see you, to be able to thank you for those readings you recommended. They have helped me far more than you will know." Having begun, he found the words tumbling out. "I wish I had the time, which I don't, for it's late and I shouldn't stay long, but I wish I could talk about them in detail with you. Please permit me to thank you, most sincerely."
" You are very welcome! It does me good to see you so much recovered." Anne smiled and handed him his tea. "I, too, am sorry we cannot discuss them in detail. I enjoy this subject and ... there are not many who share my interest." She blushed a little.
"Would you? Well, it just so happens that I ... " Captain Benwick paused to set his plate and teacup on a low table nearby; "I have an odd little habit, which I really should overcome ..." he confessed, reaching into the inside chest pocket of his coat. "You see, I often carry a book with me, and I do have this one, which you recommended." He smiled bashfully as he drew out the small volume, "Would you like to read a few passages together?"
Captain Harville closed the lid of his timepiece with a snap. Two hours! This is absurd! There was still no sign of James Benwick. He had checked and rechecked every place he could think of, even the privy. He figured that his friend might have holed himself up in there, with a book! But surely not for two hours!
He wearily searched the crowded room again. It was getting late; would none of these people ever go? Mr. Musgrove, Sr. now had charge of Captain Wentworth; he was obviously proud of his new son-in-law-to-be, but was failing to notice his exhaustion.. Blast it all! The Captain looks done in! We need to get him out of here! Seeing Charles Musgrove's face in the crowd, he made his way directly to him.
"I say, Musgrove, have you seen Benwick anywhere?" His tone was urgent.
Charles knit his brows. "Come to think of it, no, I haven't. Um, have you looked in the library? Never could figure what he sees in those books, but ..."
"I checked it first thing." Harville interrupted, annoyed at such an obvious suggestion, and at what he had found in there. "It was full of squealing children, jumping on the furniture and tossing books and pillows! Spilled food everywhere! I, ah, marched them right out of there and mentioned it to your mother. The door is now locked, I believe. Is there anywhere else he might go?"
"Hmmm. I don't think I ... say!" Charles' eyes began to dance and he put down his tankard of ale. "Maybe ... !" He grabbed Harville's arm. "Come on!" He pulled him along, elbowing his way through the crowd of chatting guests, and a maze of a back hallway, finally ending in the cloak room. "Quick, man! Are his overcoat and hat here?" Charles grinned mischievously. "No? Aha! Caught and cornered, Benwick! Hounds to the hunter! Now we give chase!"
Charles began pulling on his own coat. "Get yours, Harville." He stepped out the door, calling to a passing servant. "Rodgers! I say, Rodgers! Bring a lantern, right away, will you? To the main door." Charles ducked back in to grab his own hat, emerging with a sputtering Captain Harville in tow.
A few minutes later they were on their way down the gravel road; Charles was swinging the lantern, laughing at Captain Harville's bewilderment. "Plain as the nose on my face, Harville! When did you get in from Lyme, late this afternoon? Your friend Benwick doesn't waste any time!"
They passed the large oak. " Uh, this way!" Charles grabbed his elbow, yanking him sharply onto the narrow footpath which was invisible in the darkness. "Shortcut," he explained, without slowing his pace. Charles was enjoying himself hugely, completely oblivious to the fact that his friend was tripping and stumbling over ruts in the uneven path. At last they reached the kitchen door. "Here." Charles handed him the lantern and dug in his pocket for the house key.
"You see, Harville," he lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, "Benwick came to me asking about Anne Elliot, must've been shortly after you arrived tonight. I gave him directions here, to my house, where she's staying, and no one's seen him since. I'll lay you ten to one this is where he is." Charles got the door open and they stumbled into the deserted kitchen.
"Now we have a little fun. I wonder ... do you suppose I should get my hunting rifle, for effect?" Chuckling to himself, he looked Captain Harville over, particularly eyeing his left hip under his open greatcoat. "He, uh, wouldn't be wearing his, uh, dress sword tonight, would he?" Charles took the lantern and began to lead the way out of the kitchen and through the darkened house.
"Musgrove, what are you talking about?" Captain Harville demanded, torn between amusement and exasperation. He followed along in Charles' wake as best he could, dodging pieces of furniture.
Charles could barely keep from laughing. He struggled to keep his voice low. "Harville, when I told him that she was here, I forgot that the entire staff would be working up at the Great House tonight. That means Anne is alone here in the house! With Benwick! For, what, two hours? So, I get to play the part of the Outraged Brother-in-Law! Shall we make it a double wedding on Saturday? Anne needs a good husband!"
"Stow it, Musgrove!" Captain Harville whispered, but choking a little, for Charles' laughter was infectious. "This is James Benwick we're talking about, not some rakehell! Hey!" He had nearly stepped on a child's wooden horse, left in the doorway to the entry hall. He used his cane to push it under a nearby chair. "He has no romantic interest in any woman, especially Anne Elliot! At Lyme they did nothing but talk about books, Musgrove, books!" He rolled his eyes at the thought. "For hours at a time! Poetry, literature, sermons ..."
"Aha!" Charles cut him short, nodding significantly at a greatcoat and hat laying on a chair in the entry hall. "Here's our man! No romantic interest? Humph!" He held up a corner of the coat and shot an impish look at his friend. "He's been, ah, disrobing, wouldn't you say?" Captain Harville stared at the coat, obviously Benwick's, feeling an overwhelming urge to snicker. Benwick, a seducer? Benwick?!!
Charles turned and tiptoed down an inner hallway. "And look here," he smirked, pointing to the parlor door, which was barely ajar. Light showed through the opening; from within came the low murmur of voices. He set the lantern on the hallway floor. "Shall we join them?"
"Musgrove ... no! What if ...!" Captain Harville fought to keep a straight face, but could not. Both men burst out in a fit of muffled laughter and struggled desperately to maintain absolute silence. At last, Charles got control. He pulled himself up to his full height, put his hand on the doorknob, and gave his friend a wink. He pushed, and the door swung inward, noiselessly.
A sweet domestic scene met their eyes. Miss Elliot and Captain Benwick were sitting side by side, their chairs pulled close together in front of the fire. Between them they held Captain Benwick's small volume of __________, reading; their heads were almost touching. The remains of their supper were spread on a low table nearby. They were intent on their discussion; neither had heard the door open.
"Well, well! Good evening. What have we here?" Charles sauntered into the room, grinning from ear to ear, with Captain Harville at his heels. Anne and Captain Benwick jumped, and looked up, taken aback. The two men burst out laughing.
"Good heavens, Charles!" Anne exclaimed. "You startled me! I didn't know you were home! Is Mary with you?"
"No, we came alone ... and have found you out!"
She chose to ignore this remark and got up from her seat. "Has the party ended?" She began to stack the supper dishes on a tray. "It must be later than I thought ... thank you." Captain Benwick had handed her his teacup. "Oh, good evening, Captain Harville."
"Good evening, Miss Elliot. We, uh, missed you up at the Great House, Benwick. Musgrove thought you might be here." He elbowed Charles.
Captain Benwick came to stand beside Anne, a wary expression on his face. Charles clearly meant to twit her about the awkward situation they were in; he had seen him bait Mary like this during their visit at Lyme.
Charles cleared his throat and attempted to look stern. "Miss Anne," he began impressively, "I think you owe me an explanation. Ahem!" He gestured dramatically; this was his big moment. "What have you been doing here, for all this time, alone with this man?!"
Anne looked at him blankly. "Why, talking, Charles. When you came in we were reading from a book ..."
He and Harville exchanged glances and exploded into loud guffaws. "Reading a book !!" "What did I tell you?" "For two hours?!!" "Naw!"
Captain Benwick folded his arms across his chest, eyeing the rollicking men with growing hostility. "And what did you think I might be doing, Harville?" he asked quietly.
"No, no, James! Nothing ... untoward!" he gasped. "That was Musgrove! I thought -- I only thought -- you were locked in the privy -- reading a book -- for two hours!"
Charles doubled over at that, wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his coat. "In the privy! Oh no!"
"If you thought I was 'reading a book,' why didn't you check the library?" Captain Benwick replied, acidly.
"I did! I did!" Captain Harville wailed. "Oh lord, it was full of screaming children, James! They were jumping from the sofa onto the desk and back again! And throwing things! One boy was tearing pages from a book and sailing them in the air! What a bunch of Bedlamites!"
"That's the pot calling the kettle black, Harville!" Captain Benwick muttered, but his eyes begun to twinkle as he recalled that fiasco of a party. And this was just the beginning of the festivities ... the 'simple' part!
"So, my dear sister, what do you have to say for yourself?" Charles broke in, smirking at her.
"Nothing whatsoever!" Anne had finished clearing up. "Charles, you are such a tease! Be a gentleman and take this to the kitchen for me." She held the tray out to him and he took it automatically. She led the way out the door.
"But, Anne! Come back here, Anne! You haven't answered my question!" Charles followed her down the hall, rather deflated.
Captain Benwick smiled in admiration; it seemed Miss Elliot knew how to handle her brother-in-law's teasing rather better than his wife. He gave his friend a cuff on the arm and went out to retrieve his hat and greatcoat.
Anne had taken the lantern from the hallway floor; the two men slowly and cautiously made their way through the dark, unfamiliar house. They could hear Charles in the kitchen, trying to lecture her in his bantering way, but without success.
"But Anne, you must admit, it had a very irregular appearance ..."
"Did it, Charles? I was not aware of anything wrong ." She calmly emptied the tray of the items she had borrowed and began wiping it with a cloth. "We were only talking."
"But Anne, you cannot spend all that time alone with an unmarried man without people thinking things ..."
"We used to do so at Lyme and no one thought anything."
"But we were all together, in a large company!"
"Not always. Besides," she laid her hand on his arm; " think, Charles! Captain Benwick has a broken heart. Nothing improper would happen. He would not wish it to."
"Humph!" Charles thought that Benwick did not look as though his heart was so very broken anymore, but kept this to himself.
Anne began folding up the cloth she had used. "We were discussing a book of his and simply forgot the time. You and I used to talk together, years ago, do you remember? At those parties and assemblies?" She smiled. "No one thought it improper."
"Of course I remember!" His smile faded. "But it was improper, Anne, because ..." his eyes had lost their sparkle, his voice now became quiet. "Don't you see, I ... that's when I began to fall ..." He broke off, aghast at what he was about to say. He looked down at his hands. "Ahem! Well, I believe you, you know that, Anne, but ..."
He looked up; his two friends had found their way to the kitchen. "But please be more careful, sister-dear." He gave her a lopsided smile and turned away, taking a deep breath as he did.
"Very well, gentlemen. We'd best get back to the Great House," Charles said in a forceful, hearty voice. "Goodnight, Anne." He picked up the lantern, preparing to depart. "And please, no more gentlemen visitors tonight, eh?" He smiled in spite of himself, for this warning was clearly ridiculous.
"Musgrove, leave be!" Captain Benwick gave him an exasperated look.
"Very well, Benwick!" Charles replied, looking him over thoughtfully. This man would make a much better husband for Anne than tubby old Cousin Harry! Charles attempted to sound stern. "I'll let you off tonight! But -- the next time I catch the two of you like this, be forewarned, sir," his eyes were twinkling again, "you'll face the alter -- or -- the firing squad!"
Charles began to chuckle at his own joke, then caught himself. "Wait a minute; that's Army. You're Navy. Uh ... what's Navy ... " He thought for a minute, then flashed a triumphant smile at Benwick and opened the door to the outside. "I'll have you keelhauled off the yardarm!"
The 'Navy' men gave a shout of laughter. "No, no, Musgrove!" Harville scolded, "You can't do that! That's the top and bottom of the ship!" They followed him out the door.
Captain Benwick turned and looked back over his shoulder at Anne. Their eyes met and his hand touched his hat in salute; then he was gone.
Captain Harville's voice came drifting back as he followed Charles Musgrove up the path. "Musgrove, that's like trying to, uh, milk the cow and ride it at the same time! Don't you know what a keel is?"
After Harville and Benwick returned to the Great House and with not a little difficulty, extricated their friend from the "Simple Family Party" as it would hereafter be known, the three rode back to Kellynch Hall with little conversation. Having been given the reins, James did his best to drive in a decent manner, but as he was not very skilled, the ride had an effect of a heaving sea. The Captain was lying in the back, hat on chest and one foot extended over the seat arm. While not a dignified position, one he felt justified in taking as it was dark, these were particular friends and he was tired to the bone, so much so that the idea of holding himself upright was too taxing.
"James, I must say," Frederick said in a steady, but weary voice, "You are managing to do something that has not been done since I was a lad."
Benwick frowned, not being able to judge the Captain's frame of mind, he was not certain what was coming. He answered with great care, "And what might that be, sir?"
"I think I am becoming sea sick!" Taking hold of his hat, he sat up and asked, "For all love, where did you learn to drive?" From the tone and the subject, both Harville and Benwick breathed a sigh of relief, they could tell that the Captain was teasing. The spirits had flowed freely at Uppercross, and while all met the naval definition of sober, none were quite in the condition for drawing room conversation. "I shudder to think that I trusted the Laconia and all those poor souls to your skill when you drive like this!"
"Yessir. Well, I never really learned to drive. When I was a child, we had no cart and I have never had reason otherwise to learn . . ."
"James! Watch out!" Harville yelled as he took the reins from his friend.
As James had spoken to Frederick, he had turned to face the Captain and with that had begun to steer the horse into a ditch on the right-hand side of the road. Not that Timothy Harville was a better driver, but he proved more proficient that James Benwick. They continued on their lurching way, the night was cold and dark, the only sound was that of the horse huffing its way along and cart jostling with each step.
Pulling into the drive of Kellynch, Frederick could see a light burning in the library. While on the journey home, he had taken a respite from all his mental agitations, the light told him that it was time to begin again, for either Sophia was waiting up or the Admiral was reading. After the evening he had just spent, he was certain that it must be his sister.
As they entered the Hall, a footman began to help the gentlemen out of their coats. Harkness stepped up to the Captain and in his ear said, "Shortly after your leaving, a man of the Marines rode up asking specifically for you, sir. He says he has a packet for you and that he must have your signature. The Crofts had not returned and so I installed him in your sitting room. I have been feeding him and so he has been quite content to wait."
Looking at the servant, the Captain smiled as he removed his greatcoat, "You are very clever, Harkness. For a Marine, after fighting, the next best thing is to eat. I shall see him directly." Handing Harkness his greatcoat he said, "You put him in my . . .? "
"Frederick? Is that you?"
They all turned at the sound of his sister's voice, the news of the Marine had quite driven his thoughts about Sophie out of his head. She stood in the doorway of the sitting room. Frederick thought to himself that her look was not quite sisterly.
Harville and Benwick made their way to her and did the civil, thanking her for allowing them to stay in her lovely home. Sophia was cordial, but all could tell that it was Frederick she wanted and she wanted him now.
Thanking them for accompanying him to the party, he bid his friends goodnight. Turning to his sister, approached her with hands out and the warmest of smiles. "Sophia, I am glad to see you. I told you there was no need to come. I had no intention of disrupting your time in Bath, but since you are, and have waited up to see me, I shall be right back down after I go upstairs and conduct a bit of business." Bussing her cheek, he hurried up the stairs and to the Marine. As he went, Sophie was certain she heard him humming with great energy. And if she was not mistaken, it was "Heart of Oak."
Harkness had prepared the marine for the Captain's arrival and when all the proper papers were signed, took the corporal down the back stairs and out the kitchen, but not without a final few provisions for his journey back to Plymouth.
Holding the packet, Frederick stared at it intently. The seal was that of Admiral Locke. The waxed sailcloth packet held his entire future and its importance to him was not lost. With these orders, he was set on a course that was irrevocable; his life and that of Louisa Musgrove would move in a direction he had not seen a month ago, a direction he did not wish to move, but now was forced by his own hand.
Not wishing to be disturbed, nor found out, he took the packet into his room. Closing the door quietly, but deliberately, he broke the seal and slowly unfolded the sheets. The first was a formal letter of congratulation from the Admiral, wishing him the joy of a new command. The second was the official order. He stared for a moment, not certain that he was seeing clearly what they said. After the second reading, he knew that he had not misread anything. Aloud, but just barely, he said, "Good G-d! How could this have happened!?"
(Chapter 11) Part 1
Anne was up at first light; this was Friday and there was much yet to be done before tomorrow. By the time the rest of the family was stirring, the replacement shirt for young Charles was well on its way to being finished. She had taken apart the ink-stained shirt to use as a pattern. Mary had offered to do the fiddly bits (the buttons and such) if her sister would do the larger work of cutting, basting and piecing together the shirt. Her part completed, Anne wandered through the cottage with the sewing basket, looking for Mary. She pushed open the door to the dining room.
Charles and Mary were present, finishing a late breakfast. Mary had an odd look on her face, as if she were repulsed by something. Her plate of food was pushed well away from the rest of her table service.
"Oh, g'morning, Anne!" Charles said around a bite of toast. "Come an' join us. Just got up myself. Umph! Late night! Late night!"
She greeted them both and slid into a nearby chair, eyeing her sister who was seated across the table. Things did not look well with Mary. Anne sighed, set the work basket on the vacant chair next to her, and poured out a cup of tea for herself. She would mention the sewing later, after her sister got over whatever it was that was bothering her.
"Umph!" Charles took another sip of tea, "I hope you slept well Anne ... uh, no more pesky visitors, eh?" He gave her a little half-smile.
Anne looked steadily at him over the rim of her teacup. Don't you dare! There is enough to do today without having to figure out how satisfy Mary's curiosity about last night!
Thankfully, Charles was content merely to wink at her instead, and, taking another bite, continued talking. "Humph! I did not sleep well, myself. I've been telling Mary, here, some of the things that Harville told me about the navy after we left you, Anne. What keelhauling is, and hanging someone off the yardarm, and all the beatings and floggings for impudence and insubordi-something-or-other! Ugh! Makes buccaneers forcing fellows to 'walk the plank' look namby-pamby!"
He scratched his head. "Y'know, I used to think I might like to be a sailor -- high adventure, foreign ports, a man's life! Humph! Not anymore!" He shook his head. "What a brutish existence; poor devils."
"I think I am going to be ill!" Mary held her head in her hands. "Charles, are you deliberately trying to torture me with these gruesome details?! As if your hunting stories aren't bad enough, now you plague me with ... "
"Hunting! Hah!" Charles took another gulp of tea. "This navy business makes hunting look like a drive through the park, Mary! It seems our friends saw quite a bit of, uh, fighting action when they were together on the Lacoma, or whatever that ship of Wentworth's was."
"Laconia," murmured Anne. She took a tiny bite of toast.
"Ah, yes, that was it!" Charles was pleased to find such an attentive listener. "Well, anyway, I guess I thought navy battles were when ships shot each other full of holes and the loser sank." He took another bite of ham. "Humph. Sounds more like a bunch of da-, uh, cutthroat pirates, what with boarding parties and hand to hand combat with maces and daggers, looting and burning ships and all."
He chewed thoughtfully, leaning back in his chair. "Never thought of someone like Benwick doing that! Although he told me that his job as First Officer was to make sure the swords were sharp, Wentworth and the fighting brutes would lop off the heads, and then he would count 'em up! They have something called, er ..." He stopped chewing as he encountered horrified looks from Mary and Anne.
" 'Count 'em up,' Charles?" Mary gasped, staring at him with wide eyes. "How ... ghastly!"
"Well, sure, you know, for the recor ..." His voice dwindled off; the atmosphere in the room became tense. " I, ah, think Benwick and Harville were, ah ..." Charles forced a grin. "Well, we had to wait a long while for Wentworth last night, you know; by then we'd had a little much to dri -- well, mum's the word on that!" He drained his teacup and pushed back his chair. There was nothing for it but to beat a hasty retreat.
"Ah me!" He got up from the table, pausing to brush away crumbs from his lap and waistcoat. "Oh, Anne! Nearly forgot!" Charles reached into his coat pocket and drew out a letter which he passed to her. "This came in for you yesterday afternoon," he said, smiling apologetically. "Well! I hope you ladies enjoy your morning." He peered out of the window. It was foggy, but no rain. "Nice weather. Wentworth's last day of freedom. Hah!"
But the bridegroom was conspicuously absent from the dining room at Kellynch Hall, having chosen to closet himself in his room on this, his last 'free' day. Sophie Croft had looked in from time to time, seeking an opportunity to speak with him, but had only found his two friends. Captains Benwick and Harville were occupying themselves as best they could, having lingered over a very late breakfast, but the situation was becoming more and more awkward as the clock ticked on. The serving staff were now beginning to set out platters of luncheon food on the sideboard.
"More coffee?" Captain Harville motioned to the pot which had been newly placed on the table. "It's pretty good and it's hot."
"No, no. I've had at least four or five cups." Captain Benwick was standing, peering out of the dining room windows into the bright fog outside. "What in the world is keeping Wentworth?" He sighed and resumed his pacing. "I did not expect to spend all day in here, kicking my heels while we wait for him!" he grumbled. "And he accuses me of being an unsociable recluse!"
"Jitters, my man, jitters. Tomorrow he gets his leg-shackle! Trying to bring his courage to the sticking place!" Captain Harville replied, looking over his shoulder at the loaded sideboard, trying to decide if he was still hungry. He rather hoped he was.
"I suppose. I'm sorry, Harville. I didn't mean to snap your nose off! He said he wanted us here to support him. If he would get his, uh, hind end down here maybe we could do that!" Benwick took his seat at the dining table.
"No harm done, old man." Captain Harville grinned, then leaned back in his chair surveying the room. "I must say, this is some place, isn't it? Never thought I'd stay in an elegant manor house like this. Especially as a guest of old Croft!"
"No, no, and I suppose that's what's eating me! I was hoping we three could have a look around, do some exploring. Maybe it would take the Captain's mind off whatever's bothering him." Benwick reached over and poured himself another cup of coffee. "He seems mighty tense."
"Aye, that he does. So, too, will you be if you drink much more of that!" He heaved a sigh and rolled his eyes in resignation. "I suppose what we do as the groom's men is to hang about all day, waiting for whatever Mrs. Musgrove has in store for us at the big dinner tonight! I'll bet it's really something!"
"Is that what she called it? The Big Dinner?" Benwick took a sip of his coffee. " I'd love to see how the invitation was worded, last night being The Simple Family Party!
"Last night! Poor Wentworth! Did you see his face when we arrived and found total pandemonium? Ah me, it was a lost cause for him from then on. Although you did rather better for yourself!" Harville shot a look at his friend. "She's sure to be at this dinner tonight but I don't mean to let you give me the slip again, my friend. Abandoning me to the Musgrove clan like that! "
Benwick grinned. "No worse than you, abandoning me to the likes of Charles Musgrove and his vulgar insinuations! But I think we settled that score."
"Hah! I should say we did! Poor Musgrove! What did he think the navy was for? A pack of warships waiting around to escort old Prinny whenever he decides to take a pleasure cruise?" He helped himself to a pastry and took a bite.
"Most people have no idea of what war is all about, Timothy." Benwick said quietly. "Thank God."
"Well, at least he now knows what keelhauling is, and a hanging off the yardarm, along with every other form of disciplinary torture! He won't mix them up again. Hah! What do you think? I'll bet he'll never see Wentworth in quite the same light." Harville took another bite of the pastry. "Probably thinks he's some sort of modern-day Captain Kidd! And you, stacking up dead men's heads like cannonballs! I couldn't believe my ears, James! That was rich!"
"Did I really say that?" Benwick chuckled and took another sip from his cup. "Good. Maybe he won't be so eager to have me as a brother-in-law!"
"Aye, perhaps. I know how he feels." He gave his 'almost brother-in-law' a rueful grin. "Aw, you know Charles is a grig! He just got carried away with having a little fun last night, James -- at your expense."
"At Miss Elliot's expense!" Benwick corrected; "which is a different matter, Timothy. He is a good enough fellow, just thoughtless. I don't mind being the butt of his joke, but he shouldn't tease her like that, on such a subject."
He examined the contents of his coffee cup and began to muse over the events of the previous night. Imagine, being forced to the altar by Charles Musgrove, of all people! Running his finger along the rim of the cup, he allowed his thoughts to wander in this direction. On the other hand, marrying Anne Elliot as a matter of honor would not be so very bad, now would it?
Captain Harville noticed his friend's abstraction and resumed studying the decor of the dining room, absently drumming his fingers on the table. There was still no sign of Wentworth, but there were three more pastries on that tray ...
The clock began to strike the hour and James Benwick reigned in his fanciful thoughts with a sigh. "Three o'clock." He stretched and glanced out the window. "I think the fog is beginning to burn off. It should be a fairly nice afternoon ... what is left of it, that is."
"Do you know," Captain Harville mused as he finished the last bite, "Croft did mention he had a spyglass mount on the roof. I think he said the scope is kept inside by the access door. Do you suppose the housekeeper could show us the stairway up there?"
Captain Benwick grinned and pushed back his coffee cup decisively. "I do! Are you up for it? By all means, let's find that housekeeper!"
Watkins led the two men to a door at the end of the long hallway. "Here it is. Keep the lantern with you and watch those steps toward the top. There are several needing repair." She unlocked it and handed the lantern to Captain Benwick, peering into the dark stairwell disapprovingly. "The Family never had a cause to use this stair," she sniffed. "Why the Admiral should put that contraption up there is beyond me."
Benwick and Harville swallowed their amusement and nodded solemnly to the housekeeper. She was not deceived by their meek demeanor. "Now mind you boys don't break any of the slate up there," she said severely. "And do not throw rocks!" She turned on her heel and hurried off.
The two men stepped through the narrow door into what appeared to be an attic storage room. It was musty and cobweb-laden, just as it should be. Harville gently shut the door behind them. "Improves the 'haunted' atmosphere, don't you think?" he grinned.
Benwick was holding the lantern up in an effort to determine the size and shape of the stairwell. "What I think is that it's too bad we don't have Miss Elliot along. I'll bet she knows every nook and cranny in this place," he murmured.
"Do you? I'll wager she hasn't been up here above once in her life!"
"This is her childhood home; of course she has."
"I don't know, Benwick. The daughter of a Baronet, playing in the attic? I doubt it. Musgrove thinks his father-in-law is pretty high in the instep. It sounds as though he's rather fastidious about the proprieties."
"Maybe. But she could tell us the history of this place and answer any number of questions I have." He continued looking around the room for the spyglass, but without success. "Now what do you suppose that is? " He pointed out a large, flat object leaning against the wall just inside the doorway. It was almost as big as the door itself and was covered with a clean, white Holland cloth.
Harville poked at it with his cane "A portrait of hideous old great-great grandsire Elliot, relegated to the storage closet, no doubt! Let's have a look!" He reached over and pulled off the cloth covering. A tall, ornately framed mirror greeted them, throwing the light from the lantern throughout the room. Behind it were stacked a number of others, in varying sizes.
Captain Harville whistled. "Can you beat that? These must be worth a small fortune!"
"... four, five, six," Benwick counted. "They don't look like they've been here as long as some of this other rubbish. The cover's not as dirty, see?"
"I wonder if old Croft put 'em here," his friend grinned, replacing the linen cloth. "Not able to abide his own reflec ... Hey! This looks like the spyglass case!"
Captain Benwick picked it up and the two men began to mount the rickety stairs. The door at the top was difficult to open; once achieved, both stood on the rooftop landing, blinking in the sunlight. A pale blue winter sky showed through the dissipating fog; it would be a beautiful afternoon.
This section of the rooftop was flat, surrounded by a waist-high parapet; a perfect location for the Admiral's 'contraption,' as it commanded a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside. At the far corner of the mansion grew an enormous black walnut tree; the roof was littered with nuts and leaves which made walking difficult. Benwick extinguished the lantern and set it by the door; then he and Harville picked their way over to the mount and affixed the spyglass.
Sometime later, after they had looked over the countryside with great care, they began to speculate on distances when a cart stopped at the head of the drive. Swinging the glass towards it, Benwick began to describe in minute detail the cart and its contents.
" . . . And there is a man dismounting . . . he looks to be a clergyman. The hat always gives them up. Why do they wear such silly looking things anyhow?" he said as he squinted into the glass.
"They're silly? . . . have you taken a keen look to ours lately? Especially when those old boys who were with Nelson wear them athwart? Like Croft? I think we give the clergy a real run for the prize in that contest, James."
"Aye . . . I suppose you're right. He's taking down a case. Looks as though he's coming to stay."
"Must be Frederick's brother, Edmund . . . no, Edward. We met years ago in Whitecross. Tiny cottage, cold as midnight on Christmas. Nice fellow . . . a little closed off, not like Frederick. I'm surprised he came all the way from Shropshire though. Hope he didn't have to take the cart the whole way!" Harville said with a smile.
"I hope not too, the cart seems to be full of mouldy hay. I'm certain it's hay . . . old used hay," James said with a great deal of certitude, moving aside to allow Timothy to the glass.
"No, city boy . . . that's dung. Sure as I'm standing . . . dung," Timothy Harville said, straightening to face his friend. "But why would a parson be riding in such a thing? Unless he has taken on Papist leanings and this is a penance of some sort," he said.
The two continued their supposing as Reverend Wentworth entered the Hall.
"Reverend Edward Wentworth, ma'am," the man intoned, giving the Rector a pronounced sniff and a withering look as he withdrew from the room.
"Edward!" Sophy cried as she rose to greet her brother. She had not seen him for nearly a year and was surprised by his appearing.
"Sophy!" Edward said with enthusiasm. As she was about to embrace him, he held up a hand and said, "Not until I have had a chance at a bath, my last conveyance was not terribly lavish . . . a farm-cart. How are you bearing up, sister?" He saw no reason to keep from the purpose of his arrival. "I came as soon as I received his letter, I assume you did the same?"
Ignoring the air about him, she started, "Yes! I had the trunks packed as the Admiral was returning from the coaching station with a schedule. We were able to return the very next day. Edward, what shall we do? You must convince him that this is sheer folly. To marry this unsuit . . . this girl . . . and so soon after her accident. What can he be thinking?" cried Sophy. Her face showed some nights with no sleep and days with no peace.
"What has he had to say for himself?" asked Edward.
"I have had no opportunity to speak with him! When we arrived, he was not even in the district! He was in Plymouth, of all places. Then on to Lyme, visiting with Captains Harville and Benwick, I assume. He has brought them back to attend the wedding. He attended a party at Uppercross last night, and when he returned--late, late I might add--he said we could talk, but then he never came downstairs again, and he has not been down this morning or afternoon. His friends are who knows where and he is closeted away in his rooms. Edward, you must stop him. He cannot be allowed to do this."
Edward studied his sister and said, "I do not think it is a matter of 'allowing' anything. He is a grown man, dear. He can do as he chooses."
"But Edward, if you only knew this girl, you too would see that she is thoughtless, imprudent . . . altogether heedless. She is wholly unworthy of him. It would not surprise me if she had schemed to marry him from the outset," she said with great animation and agitation. As they had been speaking, Sophy had drawn them into the sitting room. Having called for tea, she offered him a seat. He chose to stand, being considerate of her furniture and his 'aromatic' state. "And of what opinion are you? Surely you did not come here to bless this union?"
The tea had come and as it was being poured out, he considered his words, knowing that what he had to say could do more damage than even the wedding itself. "I agree with you that this marriage should not take place, but mine are much different reasons than yours." Taking a drink, he watched Sophia to see how she would respond.
"And what might those reasons be?" At this juncture, Sophy was just glad to have an ally; George was too open to the marriage and could not find it in himself to see it as it was--a disaster. But she wished to know Edward's reasons, perhaps they could be added to her own and both their opinions strengthened.
Edward moved from the mantel and placed his cup on the tray. He began to walk the room as he spoke. "First, I must tell you, Sister, I do not hold Miss Musgrove in any way responsible. My reasons have to do with Frederick's heart, not Miss Musgrove's lack of 'worth,' as you seem to see it. He has an attachment . . . it is long unspoken, but nonetheless, his heart is engaged elsewhere and I do not think him capable of relinquishing it. This would keep him from being a good husband to his wife."
"Ha! as though that creature would deserve a such good man . . ." Sophia snorted.
Her brother's patience was taken to the quick with that statement. In his opinion, if there was an innocent in all of this, it was Louisa Musgrove, but his sister was determined to make Frederick out to be a lamb being led to a slaughter; Edward would have none of it. "Good G-d, Sophy! He is a good man . . . but only a man! The sun does not rise and set upon him! You have always taken his mother's part and when he was young that no doubt kept him from harm by Father's hand, but now he is a man and must be held to account! He has said himself that he acted imprudently with the girl! He admits it! While I am not one to hold social propriety above all things, I must say that if he was indeed rash in his behaviour with her, and he would not be honest with the girl's father, he must marry her, he has no choice." Walking to the French doors, he looked out on the garden and watched as the sun played off of the beginning new growth.
"Edward, I realise that he is a man, and that he has an obligation . . . "
Turning to his sister, he asked rather harshly, "If you realise that he has an obligation, where were you when he was obliging himself? Did you see him act unguarded? Did you know that he was being foolish?"
Sophia gave no answer, she pursed her lips and looked away.
"I thought as much. But now . . . rather than it being our brother's doing, it is all the fault of Miss Musgrove. She is conniving and an unsuitable match. Perhaps she lured him with her feminine wiles! As I recall Mr Musgrove, that is not the kind of girl he would raise. Even if she is, Frederick is thirty-two years old! More than old enough to keep himself out of danger--if he cares to! I'm sorry, Sister. I have had several long days to think on this and I cannot find anyone to blame but our brother."
"You sound as if, other than his attachment to another, you have no objections to this marriage taking place. How can that be?" Listening to Edward, her heart sunk. There was no relief that she could see from his quarter.
"My dear sister, he would not be the first man to marry from a sense of duty. There are many marriages which begin as such and become good loving unions. It will be up to him, and him alone. I feel pity for Miss Musgrove . . . her only mistake in all this was taking his dallying for genuine affection. If you must pity . . . pity her. I will talk to him, but if he insists upon marriage, we will have no choice, but to accept her," he said. "And accept her we must or what little family we have will be ruined." Giving his sister a last hug, he said, "I will do what I am able. Just tell me where to find him."
Motioning for the man, Sophia said, "Harkness will show you to his room, he is preparing for the family engagement dinner. We are all expected to attend. Will you be up to it?"
"I think so, let me talk to Frederick and then we will discuss dinners and such. Particularly a bath."
"I shall have one drawn and it will be waiting for you when you have finished."
Patting Sophy's arm, he mounted the stairs to Frederick's room.
"This is the room, Sir." Harkness said as he motioned to the door.
"Thank you." Knocking on the door as he opened it, he hoped to find Frederick in a reasonable mood, but considering the evening ahead, that seemed to be a remote possibility. "Brother, can I tie your stock for you?" He stood in the doorway, looking to Frederick, taking account of his physical being. No sleep, pale and most likely has not eaten for a day or two. That is as much as I expected.
Frederick started and turned to see to whom the voice belonged. At the moment he saw Edward, he was completely torn. The relief in his heart was immense; to have his brother at his side during this time . . . but he also knew that Edward would not have come all these miles to merely wish him well.
The clouds had begun to flee in earnest now, showing a broad rolling land dotted by great silver-trunked beech trees. Beyond the park lay ploughed acres and dappled copses; the fields were wet with mist, the droplets sparkled in the sun. In the underbrush birds chirped and twittered, announcing the promise of spring. It was a pleasant prospect; both men felt their spirits lift from a heaviness they couldn't explain.
After a few minutes of quiet observation of the landscape, Captain Harville turned around and leaned back against the parapet, studying a section of the house which rose above them. It appeared to be in the design of a tower. He gingerly made his way over to its wall and stood looking up into the eaves. An idea had begun to occur to him.
Ever since his injury, Captain Harville had developed the habit of examining the surface of the ground for possible pitfalls; his balance was at best unsteady. What he had noticed under those eaves was bird guano, quite a lot of it, and feathers. Following a hunch, he walked around the corner. An ancient joining of the older and newer additions of the house had left a small overhang, about shoulder height. At some point, it had been modified into a sort of boxed rookery. Coming from under it, Harville could hear the distinctive cooing of nesting birds: pigeons!
"James!" He stuck his head around the corner of the tower and hissed at his friend, who was lost in rapt contemplation of the countryside. "James! Over here!"
Benwick roused himself and frowned; he knew that tone of voice. What now?
"Do you know, our friend the Captain has been mighty cagey and tense these days," Harville began, barely able to contain his amusement. "I think he needs some cheering up. Our poor bridegroom is too, um, solemn!"
Captain Benwick folded his arms across his chest. "I would use the word 'stoic' to describe him -- but that cannot be right, not at his own wedding!" His eyes narrowed. "Define 'cheering up,'" he added, suspiciously.
Harville's eyes twinkled. "What do you think, James? The happy couple needs some 'company' to liven things up in their honeymoon quarters," he rolled his eyes up at the birds. "Maybe two or three, in the privy?"
"He will make mincemeat out of us, Timothy!" Captain Benwick grumbled, but he was grinning, too.
"Nay, you're out there! We're leaving for home shortly after that Wedding Breakfast on Saturday. Everyone is . . . even Croft and his wife! Wentworth will have this place to himself and he won't be able to trace it to us, well, not directly. And if he does, what can he do about it? Not a blessed thing!" He cocked an eye at his friend. "Good idea?"
"If we live! So, how do you suggest we catch them?"
(Chapter 11) Part 2
Edward entered the room and closed the door behind him. He came to Frederick and pulled him to himself. The tension in his brother was incredible. His arms and back and shoulders were tight and hard as rock. There was no softness about him at all. The strength of his grasp was nearly painful, as though he were clinging for his very life. "Edward," he rasped, "I am heartened to have you here. I need you." Frederick's voice was small and quiet, as it had been when Edward had first come home from Barbados.
I wonder that you will come through this at all, my boy, Edward thought. Releasing one another, they stood in the middle of the room, both knowing that there were things to say, but neither knowing where to begin. "It is good to see you. Though it has only been a week or two, Catherine and I miss you very much. She sends her love," Edward said as casually as he could muster. "You made quite a hole in things, she has only just stopped figuring you for dinner every night."
Frederick smiled slightly at the thought of the two of them missing him quite as much as his brother told. Surely they had better things to occupy themselves rather than lamenting his absence. "Thank you. I miss the two of you. I did not expect that I would be leaving you to be married. I had thought that I could work myself out of this entanglement, but . . . that was not the case. I found things in rather a worse state than I had imagined," Frederick said, turning back to the mirror and beginning his stock again.
"You and I discussed all this on New Year's Eve. I thought that you had determined not to marry her," Edward said, softly. Awaiting his brothers answer, he took up a brush and began to clean off his coat. He was rather dismayed thinking about how dishevelled he must look.
"Yes, you and I did discuss this. I also told you that if Mr. Musgrove pressed, I would marry her. I felt it was only right."
Edward came around to face his brother, "And did he press you so hard you were unable to resist? Was there no other way?" Though Edward had had three nights with little or no sleep, he was managing to keep himself in check, just barely in check.
"Mr. Musgrove was very amiable, actually. He did not press in the way that you mean. He alluded that his daughter did have an honourable claim on me and I could see myself that she would most likely have little chance of making a good marriage now that she is so . . . changed." Frederick walked away from his brother, not wishing to see the judgmental look in Edward's eye. "While her father did not, in so many words say that I was responsible for her fall, what hand I did have in it and the fact that I had made myself so intimate with her combine to make me feel obligated to her."
"How can you feel obliged to marry a woman you do not love when there is another woman you do love, I made it clear that . . . "
"D_mmit Edward, enough!" Frederick fairly shouted the words. He spun around to face his brother, and said, "Your words are soft and kind, but I do not need a Father confessor, nor do I need you as a clergyman to tell me all the theological reasons I am wrong. I need my brother." The anger shone in his eyes, the anger and the tears. Frederick remembered well the conversation that snowy night in Shropshire. It was nearly impossible to think that it had only been weeks and not the lifetime ago that it seemed. He also remembered his evening with Dr. Abernathy a few nights after. He remembered all the reasons why he should not marry Louisa Musgrove. He turned from his brother and composed himself. "I was never so glad to see anyone's face as I was yours when you came in here, but if you cannot just be my brother and prop me up a bit, Edward, go back to Shropshire. I do not need lectures, I need your support."
Edward could see Frederick's shoulders yielding with the weight of this burden. The choice was now his. He could pursue the moral imperative and lose what that he had worked so hard to gain, possibly forever. Or he could leave his well-known opinion silent, and be Frederick's brother. A brother was needed more. The partial verse, ". . . a brother is born for adversity . . . " came to his remembrance. "You're right, my boy. The Reverend Wentworth has left. It is only me now." He put his hand on Frederick shoulder and came to face him, as they embraced, he said, "I support you. I'll not leave you." The sigh from his brother was deep. He could feel some of the tension go from him. Edward knew he had judged rightly.
As he moved from Frederick to walk about the room, he noticed the sailcloth packet and the broken Admiralty seal which had contained Frederick's orders. The orders themselves were laying nearby where Frederick had placed them after he last reread them. Looking to his brother and seeing that he was occupied with his dressing, he picked them up and began to read.
By the Right Honourable Lord Mannington, Knight of the Bath, Admiral of the Blue and Commander in Chief of His Majesty's ships and Vessels employed and to be employed in the West Indies, etc., etc., etc.
Whereas His Majesty's Frigate Laconia is removed from non-commission and placed in active employment.
You are hereby required and directed to proceed on board the Laconia and take upon you the Charge and Command of Captain of her; willing and requiring all the Officers and Company belonging to the said Frigate to behave themselves in their several Employments with all due Respect and Obedience to their Captain; and you likewise to observe as well the General Printed Instructions as what Orders and Directions you may from time to time receive from any of your superior Officers for His Majesty's Service. Hereof nor you nor any of you may fail as you will answer the contrary at your Peril.
And for doing this shall be your Order. Given on board the Caledonia, At sea, ---February, 1815
To Frederick Wentworth, Esqr, hereby appointed Commander of His Majesty's Frigate Laconia
By command of the Admiral Benj. Locke*
He's going back to sea! Frederick had proudly shown his orders for the Laconia the first time and so Edward recognised these immediately. Sophy had said he had been in Plymouth when she and the Admiral had arrived from Bath; had Frederick been arranging all this? The question could not be answered and Edward was not certain that he wished to know. "When were you going to announce this bit of news, brother?" He stood holding the orders so Frederick could see what he meant.
Frederick's face hardened and any relaxation he had enjoyed over the past moments vanished. "Give me those, Edward!" He fairly shouted again. Moving toward his brother, his countenance was rather menacing. "Those are none of your affair!" Edward handed him the orders, there was no need to keep them, it was enough that he knew of their existence.
"Does Miss Musgrove know?"
"Apart from you and I, no one does. Not yet."
"Was this the plan all along? Marry her and then leave her? What a lovely way to begin married life, 'Oh! and by the bye dear, I just happen to have orders for Heaven knows where and will be gone for Heaven knows how long! Take care. Good bye!'" Edward's tone was mocking and sharp, other than Catherine, he loved his brother more than any human being, but this . . .
Having taken the orders from his brother and folding them to place in his breast pocket for safe keeping, Frederick fastened his waistcoat. He listened with a tightened jaw and shaking hands. He had no defense as his brother was dead on with his taunting. This was what he had intended, this was exactly what he meant to do. "I have become quite accustomed to the fact that I am not as honourable as I had thought myself to be, but the die is cast and I am going forward with this. I must, there is nothing left for me to do. Even if I end this now . . . I will never have what I truly wish and so I may as well preserve what is left of my reputation. I am sorry you do not approve, but this is the only way left to me." Sliding his arms into his blue coat, straightening shoulders and pulling the ruffled cuffs of his shirt clear, he busied himself in ignoring his brother.
"Come on over here, James, and I'll show you how we go about catching our prey. Easy as taking candy from a baby!" He led the way around the corner, to the nesting area. "In goes the hand, see," Harville reached in among the birds' nests and felt around; "and I think I've got one! Squeeze a little firmly -- and -- out comes a bird!" There was some agitated cooing and flapping, but Harville triumphantly held up a pigeon.
"Aaack!" He dropped it and it flew off, wheeling through the sky. The remaining pigeons had panicked; they now left the nesting area in an explosion of flapping and squawking. "Ouch! Aaack!" Harville batted the birds away. "Curse these bloody birds!!" he sputtered. Hundreds of feathers choked the air, along with the scolding sounds of the outraged birds. "D_mmed bird pecked me!"
James Benwick gave a shout of laughter as he watched his friend flail his arms. A few moments later, still chuckling, he bent down and found a broken piece of slate from the rooftop floor. Quietly he scooped something up on it.
Meanwhile, Harville had made his way over to the parapet wall and was leaning on it, watching the pigeons soar over the nearby fields. "Get back here, you dratted birds," he muttered, nursing his wounded hand. "Some of you go in the privy and the rest go in a pie!"
"I say, Timothy, here's another one!" Benwick laughingly held the slate tile under his friend's nose.
"Aaack! James! That one's dead!"
Harville grimaced and shoved Benwick's arm away. The bird slid off the slate and dropped over the side of the wall. Both men gasped and leaned over to watch it fall the three floors down. It seemed a long time before they heard the 'splat' on the pavement below. By then both were howling with laughter.
"Oh lord!" Harville gasped. "Do you suppose anyone saw that? We're right above the bedrooms!"
"Uh, no. It's a bit early in the year for bird watching!" Benwick managed. "A little nippy out here, uh, not good for birds. Cold'll get 'em every time, see?" He gestured to the pavement. "Stone dead. What a shame."
"No, James, you idiot!" Harville chuckled. "Not bird watchers! I mean that Watkins person! Don't want to run afoul of her!"
"Uh, well, she told us not to throw rocks!" Benwick giggled.
"Aw, we're not throwing rocks, Watkins, we're throwing birds!" Harville practiced, barely able to speak. "Dead, smelly ones!" He scratched his head, grinning quizzically at his friend. "So now what do we do? Leave it down there? Wait 'til Croft steps on it?"
"We'll never be invited back if we do!"
"We'll never be invited back anyway, you know!"
"True. Let me see. In most instances one buries a corpse," Benwick mused, "so the vultures don't get to it, so ..."
Harville began to snicker again. "Oh lord, if that don't beat all! The perfect touch for the Wentworth's wedding: vultures!"
"I'll go find the gardener to bury..."
"No, no James!" The lack of sleep and anxiety over Frederick Wentworth's odd behavior had taken their toll on Captain Harville; his overtaxed nerves found relief in hilarity. "We have plenty of buryin' material here! Look!" He scooped up an armful of old leaves and nuts and heaved them over the side, near the spot where the bird had dropped. The leaves took a long time to drift to the bottom. Many fell wide of the mark.
Captain Benwick was doubled over in a fit of laughter. "Timothy, that's not work ..."
"Sure it is, James!" Harville howled. "We just need more!" He sent several additional armloads down onto the pavement, in rapid succession. "See?"
"No, no, you're way off target, man! We need to use better aim. Like this!" Benwick giggled, and began to drop the walnuts individually. These came much closer; some bounced off the dead body.
From below came a rasping, scraping sound; someone was opening a window! Still laughing, Harville and Benwick flattened themselves against the wall, exchanging agonized looks.
As Edward stood watching Frederick, he noticed something falling outside the window; walking over to see what it might be, he observed it to be leaves and debris, obviously from the roof. It fell as though buckets of the stuff were being hoisted over the side of the house. "What an odd time to clean the roof. And a rather sloppy way of doing it. The task must be huge, I wonder that they would choose now, it will be dark in an hour or two." Turning the latch on the window, he tried to open it, but finding the hinges rusted over and the casing swollen, it would not open but a few inches without forcing; he closed it, and said, "Well, it seems to have stopped." Frederick had not listened and so made no comment.
Edward looked at Frederick, seeing that his collar was folded under, he went over to straighten it. After doing so, he patted his brother's shoulder. Frederick looked up and their eyes met in the mirror. They stood pondering their reflections. The differences were glaring. One tall and handsome in the blue and gold of the Royal Navy, the other a bit shorter, beginning to grey and sombre in a habitual dark suit. Both looked tired and careworn, each knew themselves to be subject to situations over which they held little sway. Both just wished the other to be happy. "We look like old, beaten carpet, you and I." Frederick said flatly.
Edward looked at Frederick and could see that though the situation had worn him to the quick, he was still able to jest . . . that he was finding refuge in the only thing left to him, his wit. Looking back to their reflections, he said, "Well . . . at least you are not threadbare."
Frederick smiled crookedly, "No, not threadbare. And not even that old." He arched his brow at his brother.
Edward caught his meaning and countered, "No, but age has an amazing way of over taking you . . . it comes as a great surprise one day. And as for not being threadbare, that is true, but I would suggest that you remove that fine coat when you go downstairs . . . so it don't get blood all over it."
With a frown and a shocked, "Why?" Frederick looked puzzled.
"Because you have a sister that is after your hide, my boy."
Frederick's eyes widened, "Good G-d . . . Sophia! I was to speak with her last night when I had arrived home . . . but the Marine had come with my orders and Harkness had secreted him up here. I . . . I signed for them and then took them to my room. I sat on the bed after reading them and must have fallen right to sleep!" Turning to face Edward straight on, "I haven't even been down today . . . she must be breathing fire by now!"
Giving his brother a clap on the shoulder, Edward said, "Better you than me! Ah! you're her baby, she'll not hurt you too badly. But in all seriousness, you do need to speak with her. I put her off with some things to think on, but I would imagine that she still has some very choice words waiting for you."
"Well, then I should go down and get this over with." Glancing at the bed where his presentation sword lay waiting to complete his costume, he said, "I think I'll leave that to put on later." He smiled weakly to Edward, who, putting his hand to Frederick's back said, "I can assure you, brother, through all of this you shall live and not die. This is truly not unto death. Though, our sister may make it seem as such."
"Most assuredly, brother. Most assuredly."
Benwick and Harville scurried down the rickety stairs as quietly as they could. All the while, Timothy clacked on at James for extinguishing the lamp, cursing the darkness and the cob-webs. Upon arriving at the bottom of the stairs, they realised that in their haste, they had forgotten to remove the spyglass. After a short exchange where the time was consulted, they determined that they would creep up later and replace it. Gingerly they closed the access door behind them, and walked as calmly and innocently as they could down the long hall.
"Gentlemen! I must say, I am a bit surprised that the two of you are not preparing for the dinner this evening; you are both, usually so faithful to duty."
Benwick and Harville stopped and glanced at one another when they recognised the Captain's voice. Both drew up to full height and took a deep breath as they turned to greet their friend. There stood Frederick in his full dress uniform. The blue and gold resplendent in the sunlight coming in through high windows which lined the hallway. There was another gentleman with him, the clergyman. It took a moment, but Harville recognised him to indeed be the Captain's brother, a rector now as he recalled.
As the two stood in such a rigid fashion, the Captain took a few steps closer and peered at them both. He raised his brow and a look of interest came to his otherwise pale and drawn face. Reaching toward Benwick's shoulder, he drew back a feather and held it before his friends' faces. "There are others . . . on each of you. Care to explain?"
Before either could say anything, the Captain removed one snowy white dress glove and reaching up, began to brush leaf debris, dust, and more feathers from Harville's coat. The Captains glanced at one another with scowls. There was a snicker from the clergyman. With that and what the Captain had said, the fellows knew that they must look quite a sight.
"Not really, sir. Well . . . there is nothing that cannot be rectified," Benwick said hesitantly.
Harville relaxed a little and said, "Frederick, James and I got carried away with some foolishness on the roof, there was no real harm done and we were headed out to clear things away downstairs. We truly meant no harm. A long night and boredom, you know um . . . I think we exemplify the notion of idle hands being the Devil's workshop. You know um . . . to prevent trouble . . . always keep a sailor busy."
Frederick clapped Timothy on the arm, "I'm sorry gentlemen, I have been a terrible host and a worse friend. I did not mean for things to be as they are, the party and all . . . I had hoped to have time to talk . . . time to be together. Again, I'm sorry," he looked at each with a look of apology, then remembering Edward, he brought him forward. "I have forgotten myself again. May I introduce my brother, Edward Wentworth. Harville, you remember when we stayed with him years ago? James Benwick, my brother, the Reverend Wentworth."
All the civilities done and hands shaken round, a momentary silence was interrupted by Harkness informing the Reverend that his room was prepared and waiting for him.
"Thank you, Harkness. Gentlemen, if you will excuse me, I must freshen up before this evening's entertainment." Turning to his brother, he said, "I'll be with you in spirit, my boy." He smiled and left with Harkness.
Anne sat on Mary's bed as she waited for her sister. The workbasket she balanced on her lap, with her free hand she held her letter. It was from Elizabeth, a rarity indeed. Anne sighed as she read it over again. It was short, and began with courteous well-wishing and vapid pleasantries. Elizabeth came down to business in the second part.
Anne, I am in somewhat of a quandary as to the location of my garnet necklace and earrings. I know I have not worn them for some time, but today I noticed that they were missing and I have been unable to find them in any of my jewelry cases. I am hoping that you have borrowed them, dear, and will return them when you come home.
Anne re-folded the letter and sighed as she placed it in her pocket. She had no knowledge of any of Elizabeth's jewelry, missing or otherwise. She had borrowed from Elizabeth before, years ago, and not found her to be a gracious lender ... not any more than Mary, now that she came to think on it.
"Mary," Anne called, trying once again to get her sister's attention. "I'm sorry to bother you, but ..."
"Yes, yes, I am coming, as soon as I locate my pearl necklet. It will be just the thing to wear with my yellow gown." Mary was cheerfully bustling around in her dressing room, the unpleasant breakfast conversation forgotten. "And, let's see, my best shoes, and the new silk stockings, and ..." She glanced over at her sister.
"What was it you wanted, Anne, dear?"
"About Little Charles' shirt, Mary. You promised to do the work on the buttonholes ..."
Mary blinked. "Ah, which shirt is that? Oh, the new one, for the wedding. Well, just leave the workbasket on my chair in the parlor and I will finish it later," she said absently; "after I return from the Great House. Henrietta was saying something about rearranging the rooms for the dinner tonight and I thought she might appreciate some advice."
Anne raised an eyebrow but made no comment. She should have guessed that this is how it would be. Mary was eager to be included in all the activities involving the wedding, and would not think of her son's shirt until tomorrow morning when it would be needed. Wishing her sister a good afternoon, Anne left Mary's room, descended the stairs, and made her way down the hall to the parlor.
Before the cottage had been renovated and added on to (upon the occasion of Charles' marriage), this small room had been used as a parlor, and hence came its name. But over time it had degenerated into being merely a workroom. By the light of day its shabby, mismatched furniture, the ever-present basket of mending, and boxes of handicraft supplies stacked in various places bore testimony of this. But last night, illuminated only by the fire and a branch of candles, this room had been somehow transformed into a cozy, welcoming place.
Last night. Anne hesitated in the open doorway, remembering. Charles was standing just there, laughing at me in that odious way of his, making that beastly accusation! And Captain Harville, Anne smiled to herself; Captain Harville was such a likable fellow, he was over there, leaning on his cane, making wisecracks about the library and the privy! And Captain Benwick, her eyes traveled over to the two chairs, still placed before the fireplace, he and I were sitting there, talking for all that time! How could it have been two hours? It seemed only a few moments! A flush crept into her cheeks as she considered the impropriety of her actions, something she did not dare admit to Charles last night. Oh dear, those chairs are placed rather close together are they not? And from this vantage point, perhaps it could look ... just a little ... scandalous. She shook her head, still smiling. No, I will not make excuses for Charles and his horrid comments! He is abominable!
She crossed the threshold and wandered over to sit in the chair she had occupied last night; the workbasket she placed on the seat of Captain Benwick's chair. Captain Benwick. What a very interesting person to converse with. What made him so? Anne pondered this for some time. He was quiet, but not at all reserved, or unintelligent; he was quick to catch her train of thought. And he was observant, indeed, there seemed to be no end to the questions he could ask. Best of all, he was kind; once he had caught her doubling back on a previously expressed opinion, but he had been amused, not critical. He merely laughed and accused me of 'tergiversation' ... which is quite ridiculous! What a very nice friend!
She caught herself here. Yes, but he is Frederick Wentworth's friend, not mine, as is Captain Harville. And if it were not for the wedding, neither would have come to visit me. This was a lowering thought, as was another, which had first occurred at Lyme: Had I married Frederick, these men would have been my friends as well. Had I married Frederick ...
She picked up the workbasket again, hunting up the buttons, thread, and needle. The shirt had already been marked, now she decided to begin working industriously in an effort to drive that nagging question from her mind. What if I had married him? The needle trembled in her fingers as she threaded it, for the thought persisted. Had we married, I probably would be sewing a shirt like this for my own little son. This brought tears to her eyes; she closed them and laid down the needle. My days would be spent managing our household and caring for our children! He would be home from the sea now, we would all be together, and happy, and .... No!! Anne thrust the shirt back in the workbasket and nearly flung it onto the chair. I cannot think this way! I have children to love: my own nephews! Why am I now thinking of him? I thought I was done with this!
Irritated at herself, she stalked out of the parlor and began to mount the stairs, looking for something other than sewing to distract her wayward thoughts. As she reached the landing, she heard the voice of Jemima, scolding one of the boys. What a very good idea! I need company ... someone to liven things up, and keep me busy. And he needs to get outdoors and run about and shout, instead of being shut up in there and nagged at! A few minutes later, she descended again, holding the hand of Little Charles, who eagerly hopped and jumped his way down each stair. They put on their hats and coats and went out the door hand in hand, ready to explore the path through the hedgerow.
" ... and then, Aunt Anne, you can say the one about the burning tiger. Mama says there is no such thing, but I told her there was; you said so!"
"The burning ... what? Ah!" Anne smiled in recognition. "Very good, Little Charles! You remember! I daresay your mama has forgotten; I will remind her. Shall we say the first part together, then?"
Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?
Little Charles kept up with Anne's recitation as best the could. "I whist we could see a tiger today, in the fowrest! Do you think so? Or a bear! And I can show you the twee where I bwoke my bone ..."
Anne smiled as she listened to his happy prattle. Yes, indeed. I do need someone to cheer me up. I have been too much alone.
The text of these orders was taken from the book, "Master and Commander," by Patrick O'Brian.
Poem from Songs of Experience The Tyger by William Blake, 1789
Continued in Part 5
© 1999 Copyright held by author