Love Suffers Long and Is Kind, Volume IV
Chapter 1, Part 1
"A-man-dah, dear!" Mrs. Belford tittered pleasantly as she entered the morning room, surrounded by her usual cloud of lilac perfume. "You have a let-ter! Isn't that mar-vel-lous?" As she brought it to her cousin, Mrs. Belford's many silver bracelets tinkled musically. "The first all week; isn't that the oddest thing? You usually have so many more, my love."
A smile of recognition lit Lady Russell's face as she read the direction. "My goddaughter is a wonderful correspondent, Thelma. I am never behindhand on any of the latest happenings in that family, thanks to Anne. May I?"
"Yes of course. Do tell, how is Anne?" Thelma Belford settled herself on a nearby divan and looked to her cousin with an air of expectation. "Not ill, I hope?"
Lady Russell broke open the seal and eagerly scanned the page. "No, thank God, all appear to be in excellent health. Although ..." Her smile of relief changed to a frown as she finished the letter. She began to read it again, this time more slowly.
"And so, how are the Elliot girls these days? I have not seen them this age." Mrs. Belford began toying with the fringe on her spangled shawl as she waited. "Has their dear, lovely father remarried?"
"No, dear Walt, er, Sir Walter has not."
"I have always heard that he decided not to marry for his eldest daughter's sake, although what he hopes to accomplish by that is beyond me!"
"I believe he did not wish to dilute his fortune with the expense of maintaining another wife." Lady Russell answered without lifting her eyes from Anne's letter.
"Poo! He should have considered that the wife might rather increase his fortune than otherwise." Thelma Belford shot a look at her cousin beneath half-lowered lashes. "If I remember aright, you were the one we expected to become the next Lady Elliot, Amanda." She gave her musical laugh. "It seemed the perfect match! Weren't we silly, love? But you have not told me how it is with Anne."
"Mmmm. Well, it seems Mary has come to Bath for a spell, quite unexpectedly. And Anne has been busy, although not necessarily because of Mary." Lady Russell replied. "Yes ... she is very busy for one who ... mmmm."
Lady Russell looked up at her cousin and back down at the letter. "This is most perplexing, Themla. Anne has a distinct aversion for Bath, so much so that I must confess, I was a little fearful to leave her behind. She had not yet become established socially; so crucial for a young woman of her age, as well you know. And yet ..."
She took another look at the page. "And yet, during my absence, Anne has been to at least four parties -- one at the home of the Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple -- and it sounds as though she has made some very desirable acquaintances." Lady Russell shook her head in wonder. "In fact, she says she has organised a little society for the appreciation of poetry, which will meet in her home each Friday afternoon. Anne!"
"Well! And this is Friday, is it not?"
"Yes," Lady Russell smiled. "And she tells me, here, 'I am afraid you will not like it, my dear Lady Russell, for we have chosen to run our group along democratic lines ... and we all favour the Romantic poets.' "
"Romantical poetry! How mar-vel-lous!" Mrs. Beldon absently twisted a large amethyst ring on her index finger. "Are there only ladies in this society, love?"
"I believe not."
"Yes ..." Lady Russell mused. "Thelma!" she said, with sudden energy, "Thelma, do you know, I believe I shall accept your generous offer after all! There is no reason to return to Bath; I can easily stay another week. Oh, I had planned on attending a concert of Italian music on Tuesday evening -- dear Sir Walter cozened me into purchasing a ticket, as his cousin is a patroness of the event. But I believe I shall write to Longwell and have him take it to Mary, instead. She will enjoy an evening out; I understand she has been miserably unwell this winter."
"Oh?" Thelma Beldon brightened. "Do tell."
But the one who was miserably unwell that particular afternoon was Elizabeth; Mary was having a delightful time. And when Penelope Clay touched her shoulder and relayed a message, Elizabeth was pleased beyond measure. Any excuse to escape the company in her father's drawing room was a welcome one; it had been a truly horrible afternoon!
But of course, these are Anne's friends, she reminded herself, as she rose and gracefully smoothed her silken skirts. This poetry group is by far the worst company I have been subjected to in Bath! If only Miss Carteret were not one of their number! she grumbled to herself. For that woman's presence meant that Miss Elizabeth Elliot must be seen to be having a wonderful time. Of course, her lovely smile betrayed none of these thoughts, as she quietly excused herself. But once outside the drawing room, Elizabeth continued to enumerate her sufferings.
First, that boring Benwick prosed on and on about Cowper and Scott and who knows who else -- while Anne hung on every word! And then what does he do but grill us with questions, as if we were schoolchildren! And that wretched Mr. Turner kept interrupting, trumpeting the genius of his own verses ... lord! Elizabeth pressed a hand to her temple at the thought of Mr. Turner. He had chosen to wear an oddly-variegated neckcloth of bright colours. When coupled with a kelly green waistcoat and vivid purple frock coat, the resulting combination was thoroughly nauseating!
And Anne! She must be completely addlepated! Elizabeth sniffed. Never had she seen her sister behave in this way. As though she were sharing some private joke all afternoon! Although heaven only knows what she found so amusing! And smack in the middle of it all, what should she do but cause the refreshments to be served, and in the most abrupt way!
Anne had chosen to use the silver tea service; Elizabeth was certain her sister had purposely made as much clattering as possible when she poured out. She even went so far as to loudly interrupt Mr. Turner's ravings to ask how he took his tea! Which was a godsend, actually, for it shut him up, Elizabeth admitted, but for an Elliot it was unmannerly in the extreme! And after everyone was settled, Anne had played for them -- probably the most boring pieces she knew. And Mary! Mary had insisted on singing two hideous country ballads, very poorly! Oh, it was outside of enough!
"Pardon, Miss Elliot?" Mrs. Clay's gentle voice intruded. "Your visitor is here in the library."
Were she in a better frame of mind, Elizabeth would have noticed the mysterious smile which hovered about Mrs. Clay's lips as she opened the door to that room. She also would have realized that the name of the visitor had been withheld.
"Thank you, Penelope. I shall rejoin you shortly, I am sure. But not in the drawing room." However, when she entered the library to greet her visitor, Elizabeth's annoyance only increased.
"Mr. Shepherd. What a surprise." She forced herself to speak graciously to Penelope's father. "When your daughter told me I had a caller, I must confess, you are the last person I expected to see." Out of habit she gracefully motioned toward a pair of upholstered chairs. "Won't you please sit down?"
"Miss Elliot. A-hem! Thank you." Mr. Shepherd bowed and lowered himself into the seat he had been occupying. Straightaway he began shuffling through a sheaf of papers. "Thank you for, er, consenting to see me today." He coughed once or twice and adjusted his spectacles.
"But, of course." Elizabeth returned his polite smile with a stiff one of her own and waited for the man to state his business. As she watched him, she wondered if all solicitors were so hoveringly anxious; he reminded her of some sort of worried bird eyeing a dish of food.
As Mr. Shepherd opened his mouth to speak, he realized that something was amiss and scrambled to his feet. "Miss Elliot, the door. Er, may I?" In response to her nod, he quietly shut it. But as he resumed his seat, his sheaf of papers fell; its contents were scattered on the library floor.
Elizabeth began to be amused as she watched him scuttle about to retrieve them. Mr. Shepherd certainly was a funny one! From the top of his balding head to the toes of his slightly scuffed shoes, he looked to be exactly the same as he had appeared at Kellynch last summer. Indeed, she wondered if the man had a second set of clothes!
"Miss Elliot." He climbed back into his chair and blinked at her for a moment or two. "You must excuse me for requesting to see you like this, alone. I have something to divulge to you which is of the most sensitive nature. I must ask for your solemn promise of confidentiality."
"Of course, Mr. Shepherd." She raised her brows and smiled. "What is wrong? Have I overspent my allowance this quarter? Has Father sent you to scold me?"
"If it were only that simple," he murmured and attempted another beginning. "A-hem! Miss Elliot."
"Yes, Mr. Shepherd!" Elizabeth snapped; she was rapidly losing what little patience she had. "Please state your business! I take it this is a matter of some importance?"
"Indeed, yes. I have here a letter for your father. I thought it best to bring it myself, to discuss the, er, ramifications of its contents. I understand he is out for the afternoon." Mr. Shepherd moistened his lips and leaned forward. "It is somewhat, er, against the code of my profession to be discussing this with you, Miss Elliot. Please understand, were it not for the dire nature of the circumstances, I should certainly never do so. But you alone, of all your family, have your father's ear." He blinked several times and continued. "You were my ally once before, Miss Elliot, in convincing your father to leave Kellynch. I must ask for your aid once again."
"Certainly. What do you require?"
"You must convince your father to advertise."
"To advertise?" Elizabeth's brow furrowed. "To advertise what?"
"That I cannot say, Miss Elliot. But when he asks you what it is that he should do, you must say, 'We must advertise.' "
Elizabeth was affronted. "Then I am afraid I am unable to assist you, sir," she said sweetly, as she rose to her feet and ended the interview. "With all due respect, Mr. Shepherd, you really cannot expect me to act in complete ignorance of any situation, no matter how dire the consequences!" She looked him straight in the eyes. "I am certain that under similar circumstances, you would not expect this of your own daughter. There are times when only complete honesty will serve. Good day to you." And with that, Elizabeth swept majestically to the door.
"Miss Elliot!" Mr. Shepherd called her back.
Elizabeth turned to face him with raised brows, careful to hide her triumph.
"I suppose you shall hear of this sooner or later." With great reluctance, he drew out a page from his pile and held it out. His watery blue eyes looked directly into hers. "You understand, Miss Elliot, you did not hear of this news through me."
"But of course. My memory is most adaptable, Mr. Shepherd," Elizabeth said smoothly. Her skirts rustled as she crossed the room and took hold of the letter. Her eyes went to the bottom of the page first. "Whose signature is this? I do not recognise it."
"Admiral George Croft's."
"Ah yes. My father's tenant."
"You are quite acute, Miss Elliot. It is on the subject of his tenancy that he writes."
"His ... tenancy?" Elizabeth's eyes darted to Mr. Shepherd's face. Her lovely brows knit into a frown as she sank into the chair and began to apply herself to the letter.
Meanwhile, the meeting of the newly-formed poetry group had begun to break up. As the footmen removed the tea things, Captain Benwick brought the last of Tino Turner's volumes to Anne.
"Well, that's over," he said in an undervoice, with a look at the group clustered around the pianoforte. "And we survived. My heartiest congratulations, Miss Anne. You are remarkably skilled at this sort of thing."
"At what sort of thing?" Anne whispered back. "Being obnoxiously overbearing? My godmother would be mortified by my behaviour today!"
"How so?" he said, as he knelt to assist her with placing the books in the lowest drawer of a cabinet.
"You could not mistake, surely," Anne groaned. "Mr. Turner, you are not attending! How do you take your tea, sir? Oh, how could I have said such an ill-bred thing?"
"I, the ill-bred one, nearly cheered to hear it!" James grinned. "Only rough-and-ready tactics work with a saphead like him, you know. He was in the middle of, what, proclaiming himself the superior to Cowper?"
"Had I not a particular admiration for poor Mr. Cowper, I would not have ... but that is no excuse!" A smile twisted Anne's lips. "You, on the other hand, led the discussion very well. Although ..."
"Although none of the participants had a particle of interest in talking about poetry, other than Tino's!"
"Oh dear, they didn't, did they? And what was the name they chose for our group? The Insightful Poetic ..." The giggle which had threatened to bubble up all afternoon finally surfaced.
"The Insightful -- and Profound -- Poetical Aficionados of Bath, or some such thing," he finished for her.
"If you objected to the name," she chuckled, "you should have suggested an alternative."
"Not I! What does it matter what they call us? Besides, it kept him from talking about ... uh ... Courage, Miss Anne," James murmured. "Don't look up, but I believe the man himself is coming to speak with you."
Captain Benwick assisted Anne to rise as Tino Turner made his way across the room with Miss Carteret and Mary Musgrove in tow. He bowed grandly before his hostess.
"Miss Anne, it is with the greatest regret that I take my leave of you. May I say that your poetical society has exceeded my fondest expectations! Such a delightful afternoon! Or, as you would say, Captain, confrabuclation at its finest. Until next Friday, then?"
"Oh no, Thursday, Mr. Turner," Mary chirped. "Because of the Assembly! We changed the day, don't you remember?"
Tino clapped a hand to his forehead. "So we did! Until Thursday, then, Miss Anne, Mrs. Musgrove."
"And please, won't you then tell us the story of your beautiful neckcloth, as you promised?" Mary's eyes were shining; she was obviously impressed to have such an important acquaintance.
"My dearest, most cherished Mrs. Musgrove!" Tino Turner turned, seized Mary's hand, and impulsively kissed it. "There is absolutely no time like the present for such a story!" And without bothering to ask leave of the others, he promptly launched into a lengthy explanation of his exploration into the world of the textile arts.
"... for as you know, the artistically talented are never so only in one area of expertise. Before this epoch in my life, I had plunged myself into the painting of landscapes -- but that is another story. This neckcloth reminds me of my travels in the north country, where I did some experimentation with the method of expressive dying."
"And what sort of expressions do the dying exhibit?" Benwick muttered.
Tino hastened to correct himself. "No, no, not dying! Dying! The colouring of cloth." He tenderly stroked his silken cravat. "I specially ordered an entire box of white neckcloths and worked tirelessly to explore new ways to implode them with the vibrant colours I saw used in the plaids of the common folk."
"And," he gushed on, "I found that by using a process of tying the fabric in knots, winding it with string, and dipping it in wax -- and then oh, so carefully dipping it in the different vats of dye -- I accomplished this delightful effect." Tino puffed out his chest in pride. "I call it Tie-Dye. What do you think?"
Mary stood open-mouthed. "Mr. Turner," she sputtered, breaking the silence. "I understand! I see it all!" She brought a hand to her breast. "At that poetry reading the other day, I simply could not comprehend your poem, about the pie from America and the old boys and all. It sounded so morbid and dreary. But now I do! And let me tell you, Mr. Turner, it was no thanks to that printer! For he got the spelling all wrong, when he printed out your poem! You should perhaps consider legal action against him for his mistake! Here, let me show you." And she snatched up her green volume and removed a square of paper.
With great drama she unfolded it. "I suppose they have levees and Chevys and whiskey in Scotland. For you were telling us about your travels in the north, indeed, about this very neckcloth, when you said: 'This will be the day that I ...Dye'!"
Chapter 1, Part 2
Elizabeth's silken skirts rustled as she paced. "We must present a united front," she muttered. "It will be the only way to convince Father."
Her interview with Mr. Shepherd over, Elizabeth stalked up and down the back hallway, grumbling to herself. How she missed the dark, echoing labyrinth at Kellynch Hall. Ever an escape, those quiet passages were the perfect place to clear her mind and lay her plans. This house in Bath also lacked a spacious flower garden, another favourite retreat at the Kellynch estate. The thought of it, now brown and shrivelled, with her prized plants dug up and given to Lady Russell, brought a pang. It had been a world of trouble -- or rather, the gardener had been a world of trouble -- but it had been Elizabeth's very own and sorely did she miss the solitude it offered.
Presently she heard her father's voice in the entry hall; he had arrived as the last of Anne's guests were departing. Elizabeth took a peek around the corner to see the group standing before the main door.
Whatever does she see in that man? she wondered, as she watched Captain Benwick make his bow to Anne and exit the house. He is not at all handsome. It must be the uniform. It does give an ordinary man an air of importance.
"Why did you never tell me of the Assembly, Father?" Never one to mince words, Mary demanded an answer as soon as Sir Walter had sent the butler for a glass of sherry. "It is not like you to be negligent when it comes to society news. And as soon as Friday night! It is indeed fortunate that I brought a proper gown with me."
But Sir Walter did not share his daughter's enthusiasm for the event, and said so. Elizabeth drifted into the entry hall and stood quietly at the rear of the group, intent on their conversation.
"You mean ... we may not attend?" Mary sputtered.
"I mean, it may not be in our best interest. It is a Public Assembly, daughter! Only consider!" Sir Walter raised his brows. "We have not been in Bath long enough to determine if it quite the thing to attend such an event," he confided, with a smile. "A Private Ball is another matter, of course."
"And besides," he continued, "we are retrenching, Mary. To spend any amount on a less-than-worthy occasion is thoroughly wasteful! And now, if Burton is correct, I have a visitor waiting for me in the library." And after the smallest of bows, Sir Walter turned and left his three daughters standing in the entry hall.
"But ... but ..." Mary's face showed her incredulity. "We are ... not going? How ... how infamous! I am a married woman, not a child! How does he dare to forbid me ..."
Elizabeth stepped forward. "Do me the favour to kindly shut up!" she hissed in her sister's ear. "Must you be so obvious, Mary?" she added, lowering her voice further. "Of course we shall go ... if you do not ruin everything by getting his back up!"
"Well! That's a fine thing to say to your own sister!" Mary turned and flounced angrily back to the drawing room.
During this whispered exchange, Anne stood by quietly, deep in thought. She now raised her head and spoke. "He said we were 'retrenching', Elizabeth. He actually admitted it. Do you suppose ... "
"It was a convenient excuse," Elizabeth interrupted. "It suited his purpose to say so, nothing more."
"Yes, of course it did," Anne agreed. "But to hear him say such a thing, even as a rationalisation ... It does give one pause to consider." To Elizabeth's annoyance, Anne's eyes were bright with hope.
"Do you suppose he is coming to accept our circumstances, Elizabeth, in even a small way? If he has ... perhaps our retrenchment shall be successful after all."
"If you think that, then you are a greater simpleton than I thought!" And in much the same manner as Mary, Elizabeth stalked off.
Left to herself, and with no desire to join Mary in the drawing room, Anne drifted over to the stairway. To have both sisters in the house, each of them angry and upset, was certainly nothing new. The occasion for such disagreements had subsided greatly since Mary's marriage. The Assembly, of course, was the cause of it all. Why cannot anyone think rationally when there is the slightest mention of a ball? Anne wondered.
Once she gained the upper landing, Anne wandered down the hall and entered her tiny bedchamber, still thinking about the Assembly -- and about Mary, who had thought to bring a dress for dancing while she left her poor husband at home to be ill. What is it about a ball that brings out the worst in every woman? The demands for new clothing, the anxious attention to one's gloves and slippers, the worry over hair and jewelry ...
She stood at her window, looking down over the barren courtyard. Anne had not been to many large parties of the kind which would be held on Friday; the last dancing she had seen was at Uppercross, the night before a wedding ...
Uppercross. Anne's mind wandered back to that dreadful night, when she had played -- and when Frederick Wentworth had danced with his soon-to-be wife. "I have loved none but you ..." she murmured, but before she could repeat the lines of his letter, another voice, familiar and cheerful, sounded in her mind.
"Before you tell her what it is, Timothy, tell her what it is for."
The voice was Captain Benwick's; he was laughing at Captain Harville's horrid talisman, a caul, which had supposedly kept him from drowning. The recollection brought a smile. She had had dinner with these two men -- and a very merry time it was. They had told story after story of their adventures at sea; Benwick had made Captain Harville relate the tale of his young daughter and a stowaway cat -- and how they had laughed!
And he and I were caught in that storage closet together! Anne pressed her hands to her cheeks, yet she continued to smile. It seemed so long ago; could it have been only a few weeks? The sights and sounds of the party at the Great House converged in a kaleidoscope of memory: the light from the many candles, the happy chatter of the guests, the tinkle of glass and merry laughter, the music ...
The music. Anne closed her eyes and gave herself to thoughts of the music. Without her being aware of it, her feet began to move in the steps of an almost-forgotten country dance. Soon she was swaying, then twirling about in her bedchamber, at one with the melody only she could hear. Perhaps you should have danced, her thoughts whispered.
A brisk rapping at the door brought her to her senses. "Enter," she called, a little shyly.
Elizabeth came into the room with a frown in her eyes and a look of disapproval on her face. "I hope I am not interrupting anything," she said dryly, as she closed the door.
"Er, no, nothing, nothing at all." Anne tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear; she blushed to be caught in the midst of such foolishness -- although she knew Elizabeth could not be privy to her thoughts.
And then Elizabeth did something she had never done before. She crossed the room and sat down on Anne's bed. "We need to talk," she said briskly. "Perhaps you would like to have a seat before we begin."
Anne remained where she was. This did not escape her sister's notice.
"Very well, Anne, if you prefer to stand, have it your way." Elizabeth took a deep breath and began her speech. "As you may be aware, Mr. Shepherd has come to call on Father today. They are together now. What you may not know is, before Father returned, I spoke with him privately, er, with Mr. Shepherd, that is."
Elizabeth waited for a reaction, but Anne remained silent.
"He showed me a letter, Anne, from Admiral Croft. I wonder, did the Crofts breathe a hint of their news when you saw them in the Pump Room the other day? No? I thought as much." Elizabeth smiled grimly. "It appears your friends do not intend to renew the lease for Kellynch Hall. They will be leaving in September."
"Leaving ...?" Anne groped blindly for the desk chair. In such a small room, she needed only to take a few steps to find it. She dragged it toward her and sat.
"So you see, our retrenchment in Bath will never work." Elizabeth's voice was heavy with sarcasm.
"Then we must go back ..."
"To what? To your fine plan of restriction and economisation on every hand? To the same round of countrified dinners and card parties, without the pleasure of returning the invitations on a more lavish, noble scale? To face the pity of those beneath us? No, I thank you!"
Elizabeth leaned forward; her voice had a bitterness which Anne had never heard before, even in her worst fits of pique. "You may return to Kellynch if you wish, Miss Anne! You may live buried in the country, with only Father, and the Musgroves, and your charity work in the village as entertainment and society!" Elizabeth paused to compose herself; she could not, and so she continued speaking in a voice thick with emotion.
"Go ahead! Or no, you can do better for yourself; I forgot! You can become the companion to Lady Russell, much like Mrs. Clay is to me! The two of you may grow old together, or at least you will; she is old already! You agree about absolutely everything, it will be most delightful!"
"No. Indeed, we do not," Anne whispered.
"Well, I am not going back. I am going to find a husband for myself. As I have said before, I want my own establishment. This is my one chance and I do not intend to waste it."
"Oh, Elizabeth. Our poor father ..."
Elizabeth looked at her sister for a full minute before she answered. "Poor Father? What about us? We have no future at all! You have said so yourself, and I would not believe it! And there is not a man alive who will meet Father's requirements for ..."
She pressed a hand to her forehead and made another attempt to speak more calmly. "The lease does not expire until September; we must not give in to panic. It may be that we will find another tenant and stay on. But we must begin to implement our plans for independence now. Immediately."
Elizabeth leaned forward and gripped the arm of Anne's chair. "We must present a united front, Anne. It is the only way. We must attend this Assembly on Friday. All of us: Mary, Mrs. Clay, myself, and ... you. He cannot prevail against us all, if we stand together."
"You are wasting your efforts with me, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth gave a snort of derision. "Yes, you have quite given up dancing! How could I be so stupid as to forget that?"
Anne raised her eyes to meet her sister's. "I simply meant that you should work to convince our noble cousins to attend, and Father will follow along happily. But I believe Miss Carteret is already planning to do so; she mentioned today that she is looking forward to dancing with Mr. Turner."
"Miss Carteret? Well!" Anne's words worked like magic; Elizabeth's countenance changed immediately. "And what about you?" she said at last, very quietly. "I want no room for failure in this, Anne. You must attend with us. Surely you would not be so selfish as to deny me this opportunity."
Anne looked down at her hands; they were clenched tightly in her lap. She answered nothing.
"You needn't dance, you know," Elizabeth said, encouragingly. "You may sit in a chair and observe the crowd to your heart's delight." She bit her lip, then added, "Oblige me in this, Anne ... please."
Again Anne looked up. "I ... I have no dress to wear," she said simply.
"Surely not; you must have something. It cannot be so bad as all that! Why, I have said the same myself, many times!" Elizabeth smiled in sympathy. "Something from a past Season will do, perhaps. We can have Elise freshen it up, refurbish it, bring it up to date."
"I have had no 'past Seasons,' as you have." Anne found it difficult to speak. "See for yourself. My gowns are in the wardrobe. There is nothing grand enough for a ball." She remained seated as Elizabeth opened it and wordlessly examined its contents. The silence was so great and so mortifying that Anne attempted to lighten the atmosphere by adding, "It is just as well that I have given up dancing, you know. For as you have said, there are no unmarried gentlemen to dance with at home. And I haven't the proper shoes for it, in any case."
"So I see." Elizabeth closed the wardrobe and came to stand before her sister. "Do you mean to say that this is your sole reason? That if you had the proper attire, you would attend?"
"I would at least be able to consider doing so. But as it is ..."
"Very well, stand up," Elizabeth ordered. "Turn 'round." She eyed at her sister critically and said, at last, "Yes, I do believe it will be just the thing for you." She crossed the room and pulled the bell to summon Elise. "Why ever do you wear such pale, washed out colours, Anne? Your dark hair and eyes demand something more dramatic."
Anne tucked another stray strand of hair behind her ear. "Er, how do you mean?" Elizabeth's sense of style and colour was flawless, nevertheless Anne was reluctant to place herself wholly in her sister's hands.
Elizabeth smiled archly. "Come and see, as you are so fond of saying. Elise will have a bit of work to finish by Friday, but I believe we may furbish up a proper ball dress -- and without adding any burden to our precious retrenchment, either."
And so it was that a quarter of an hour later Anne found herself in Elizabeth's beautiful bedchamber, staring at herself in a full length mirror. Elise was working feverishly to place the pins in the bodice of the elegant ball dress she wore. Elizabeth stood by, watching with a critical eye.
"S'il vous plait, Mademoiselle Anne," Elise murmured softly. "Turn just this way. I finish here in a moment more and then the hem I adjust. It is fortunate that your sister, she is taller."
"Yes, of course." Anne could not tear her eyes from the reflection in the looking glass. For the gown Elizabeth had chosen was without a doubt the most beautiful one Anne had ever seen. It classically simple and made of silk; the fabric shimmered dully with each movement and change in the light. But most wonderful of all was the exquisite colour: it was a rich, deep blue, the colour of the midnight sky in summer.
'The indigo gown' Elizabeth had called it, but to Anne's ears that name was far too common. Her sister complained that the colour had not looked nearly as well as when she had ordered it; she had worn the dress to several balls in London two years before, and then never again.
At last, Elise gave a tug to the back of the bodice and inserted the final pin. "It must fit perfectment, very snug and alluring," she drawled. "And it shall be done, even if it means my death."
Anne turned to face her, a little shocked at both of these statements.
"You have much the look of your mother, Mademoiselle, more and more as the years pass. This dress she would approve. For her sake, it must be perfect."
Anne gazed at herself in the mirror. After the alterations were made, the bodice would indeed fit like a glove. She shifted uncomfortably, wondering if her mother would truly approve; the neckline was more daring than any she had ever worn.
Meanwhile, Elise had scurried away to the dressing room; she now returned with a fabric-covered box. "C'est ... that is to say, this is the adornement, Mademoiselle, for the shoulders." And from the box she tenderly removed a delicate garland, which she proceeded to fasten to the neckline of Anne's gown.
"And if I'm not mistaken, there is one like it for your hair." Elizabeth said. She brought the box to Anne and allowed her a peek inside. "It looked rather hideous in mine, but I do believe it will be perfect for you."
Anne removed the paper covering and gave a cry of delight. The head ornament exactly matched the garland. It consisted of a silken rope of flowers and leaves, in the exact shade of the gown. The small petals were cunningly made of deep blue velvet; the centers of the flowers were of tiny glass balls and silver beads, intricately wrought.
"It is on wire, inside the silk cord," Elise explained, "and hair is arranged in and around. I curl the hair and pile it high and ..." she shot a look at her mistress, "she should wear les sapphires, for the sake of your mother, Mademoiselle Elizabeth. It is what milady would wish."
Elizabeth regarded her maid fixedly. Elise had been the much-loved personal attendant of Lady Elliot for several years before her marriage and all the years thereafter. Fiercely devoted and as talented as she was plain, Elise would allow no one else to wait on her mistress, ever. Even during Lady Elliot's final, most difficult months, she alone bore the burden of her care. Very rarely did Elise dare to assert the authority given her by this position, but she did so now, on behalf of Anne.
"I agree completely," was Elizabeth's only response.
And so it was decided, despite the stammered objections of Lady Elliot's modest second daughter. The Elliot sapphire necklace, with its matching earrings, would be worn to the first Assembly of the Season in Bath, by Miss Anne Elliot -- a young woman who had quite given up dancing.
Chapter 2, Part One
The door to the dining room closed quietly. Catherine glanced from the door, to her husband and back to her plate.
The Rector brought his napkin to his lips. He too watched the door for a moment. Replacing the cloth, he said, "I believe this to be her quickest meal yet -- and with the fewest words."
"Yes," Catherine murmured. "Quite. I only wish it were possible to plan and prepare with as much speed as she consumes. Were that so, I would have much more time to be a lady of leisure."
Edward smiled. "You, a lady of leisure? You would only find more to do in a day. Better it stays this way. Besides, she is entitled, is she not?" Pushing his plate away, he continued, "A young woman, newly married, her husband gone for who knows how long. You are not worried, are you?" His wife's past, in his judgement, gave her an authority in this matters
"No, not just yet," Catherine said as she took their plates to the credenza. "It is only four days since your brother's departure. Nevertheless ... " She placed coffee before him and took her own seat again.
"Her character is not so formed that she may even understand what her feelings are in this, much less take a firm hand to them. Just as the days change to months and years, a little lowness progresses quickly to become a deep and abiding depression."
Edward looked at his wife. She gazed out the window. Her faraway look said that she was thinking of her own misfortune and her own brush with that of which she spoke. "Nevertheless, you are not yet worried about her?"
She laughed a little. "No, as I say, he has not been gone yet a week." Taking a sip of tea, she collected her thoughts. "Lawrence and I were not married, and his death was so unexpected -- such a shock. Louisa is a wife to him, and has had time to accustom herself to her his departure. The two matters are quite different."
The Rector was surprised at the feeling that rose upon his hearing this. "True. She has had time to accustom herself to his leaving, but make no mistake ... " He took a drink of coffee. "Unexpected death is all a part of it. Every time I wave him away, I wonder if I will have him back. Some do not return, you know."
Catherine sighed. "I am sorry," she took his hand. "I know you worry, and poor girl, she has never been on her own. She misses him so and is most likely homesick into the bargain. It only makes everything blacker."
"Whether it is his absence, her being homesick, or both, we must watch her closely -- he has trusted us with her care." He rose and kissed Catherine. "This proves that all things work together. You know the signs to watch for. Was she at Uppercross, they might not see anything until it was too late. Now," he said straightening, "I have visits to make. I must get something from my study and then I will be off."
"Was she at Uppercross," Catherine said, "she would not be homesick." She winked.
He scowled. "Wha -- oh, right. Never mind. You do understand me."
"Of course I do, dear. You will be home for dinner, will you not?"
Looking at his watch, he snapped it shut and said, "I should." Leaning down again, as to kiss her, he whispered, "You are very pretty this morning," and was out the door before she could respond.
In the study, Edward watched the swallows dart and chase outside his window. The morning sun rose onto the face of the house, and the warmth attracted a few hardy insects. The past year, the swallows had gathered each morning to feast and give him a show. It seemed that this year would be no different.
Turning his attention from the outside, he opened a drawer and brought out the pouch of gold coins. The heft of it and the substantial sound and feel of the coins rubbing together made him think about the plan Frederick had laid out for him to follow. It was all simple enough and predicated on Pollard Levant's inborn greed and his obvious need of funds. If the scheme had to be played to the end, the rector was not certain that he had enough of the guiser in him to do it justice. He hoped it would not go so far. His greatest hope was, that Levant would accept the gold in full and be done with the whole bargain. In his heart of hearts, Edward knew that to follow the plan to the end would require him to so finesse the truth, it would just as well be lies. While Frederick saw this as a military man -- as a campaign being fought between two opposing armies, and therefore a bit of prevarication acceptable -- the man of God saw it quite differently. While not comfortable with all of the scheme, he understood his brother's thinking on the matter and resolved to follow through.
Slipping the pouch into his coat pocket, he looked over his desk and chose two sheets of paper from several handwritten, scratched-out sheets. He folded them, and tucked them in his breast pocket. Taking a last look around the study, he felt for the pouch. Finding it secure, he departed for Bramford Hall.
"The Rector Wentworth, sir."
"Rector, do come in," Pollard Levant said, a little louder than necessary. He came from around his desk with hand extended. "I have been anticipating your arrival for some time. I hope nothing of real import kept you."
Edward shook the man's hand and took the chair he indicated. He also took in the thinly veiled barb. The rector had not been on the doorstep at dawn, and was, therefore, deemed late. "No sir. I was merely wanting all parties to be done with morning concerns."
"Ah, yea. Tom, bring us tea. Unless you will have something stronger, Rector?" He looked at Edward. A shake of the head settled matters. "Tea then, and be quick." Sitting heavily, Levant settled himself behind his desk and looked again at his visitor. "Well, sir. I think we have some matters of business to discuss, but first, how is your lovely wife?"
"Mrs. Wentworth is well, thank you."
"Good, good. I have ordered a load of wood brought to the Rectory. I know that the weather is quickly turning, but March is unpredictable. We could still have a snow or two. And with the baby and all -- And how is the other Mrs. Wentworth?" He paid particular attention to his cuffs and coat front as he awaited a reply. "Mrs. Captain Wentworth?"
Before he answered, Edward thought how like Levant it was to supply him with heat at the very end of winter, and to be more interested in the condition of his sister-in-law than his wife. "She is well also. She misses the Captain of course, but that is to be expected."
"Yes, yes it is. Such a sweet woman. Nevertheless, such a pity to have her husband ripped from her so soon after their marriage." He reached into a marquetry box and removed a cheroot. He did not make an offer to the rector. He rose and went to the fire. Lighting a twig, he used it to light the cigar. He drew hard and puffed, "Too bad for her. With all the rumours ... about Bonaparte, it must be difficult knowing ... this could be his last commission." Levant tossed the twig in the fire and took his seat behind the desk.
The double meaning of the statement was troublesome, but either way, Edward would not give him the satisfaction of knowing that the same thoughts plagued the Wentworth household. "We must hope for the best in all things. He is in God's hands."
Levant laughed heartily. "Yes, well, I suppose you must think that. Your occupation being what it is." Taking a long draw on the cheroot and blowing out a thin stream of smoke, Levant said, "And the congregation. How are they faring? Healthy, happy?"
"For the most part." Edward knew that Levant had no more concern for the members of the congregation than he had concern for Frederick's well-being. "Every congregation has those more fortunate than others, and we minister to each as best we can."
"Sure, sure," was the only response. "And about the foundry up by Glencoe, now that should be quite the talk!" Levant sat straight and looked at Edward with a definite eye.
"Yes, the foundry. The last talk I had heard, " (the talk was from Abernathy, whose uncle was an investor in the project) "was that the consortium has had trouble raising the capital. There have come to light many considerations to do with the location that no one could foresee."
"Really? I had not heard." Levant was silent. The foundry had always been one of his strongest bargaining chips. He had insisted the foundry would bring jobs to the district and, therefore, more tithes to the small, rather poor church, thus making the living worth much more than it appeared. He cleared his throat and said, "Shall we get down to business? I think we have solved enough of the world's problems. Shall we now solve some of our own?"
"I think we should, sir." Edward rose and took the pouch from his pocket. Laying it on the desk, he returned to his seat.
Levant stared at the sack for an instant and then gave the Rector a quizzical look. He leant forward and snatched up the bag. He opened the mouth and peered inside. His eyes widened when he took in the gold. Dumping the contents onto the desk, he counted the coins. "This is less than we agreed upon, Rector." His fingers rested on them, even as he scowled at Edward.
Edward swallowed and called on God as he answered. "Sir, I do not believe that we agreed upon a particular amount. In our last two meetings, several amounts were discussed, but none expressly agreed upon."
Levant shoved the gold away in a disdainful gesture. "This is not nearly enough. Besides you have been at this for a year. A year for which there was no payment. That should count for something."
The Rector came to the edge of his chair, but thought better of standing. "I have served this Parish over the past year, as was the wish of your grandmother. She and I agreed on terms. It is only now that you wish to change things. I do not see that the bargain I struck with her should influence this one -- sir." Edward willed his ire down.
"As you said, things change. Now look, Wentworth, you want to remain as the rector of the Parish, I want you to remain. But, if we cannot come to terms, you will force me to find someone more reasonable. And it is not as if there is an overabundance of situations for men in your line of work -- and at your age."
There was silence between them. Levant had managed to touch on all the Rector's deepest fears in one, graceless statement. He could pay more to Levant, but his brother's admonition would not be ignored. He now would employ the argumentation he and Frederick had discussed.
"But, Mr. Levant, this is all the money that I have to give you towards the living. This gold is all that I can allot for this."
Edward had not been comfortable when Frederick and he had argued about using such careful wording.
"It is not a lie! You are not saying that this is all the money you possess, but merely all you can give him. I admit, it is a fine line, but I do not believe that you are crossing it!" Frederick had said. Both men had held their ground, jaws tight and faces flushed.
"But, brother, the purpose of words is to communicate, and these words communicate that I have no more money, and that is not the truth!"
"All right, if that is how it is with you. I only give you the money on the condition that no part of it, apart from these gold coins, makes its way into Levant's pockets! There, now you will be telling the honest truth -- and if I find that you have done otherwise, I will demand immediate repayment!" The look on his brother's face had been one of pure satisfaction. They had both laughed with giddiness. In a reversal, it was the elder brother's deepest woe remedied by the younger. Very much a turnaround of the usual order of things.
But now, as Edward applied the remedy, his conscience pricked him. Frederick called the scheme a canard, but Edward could only call it a lie. A lie that he would correct at the next opportunity.
"Now look here, Wentworth, I need at least another fifty pounds to make this work. Surely you can find fifty pounds." Levant reached out and took one of the coins. He flipped it into the air and caught it. "Your wife's family is well-set from what I know."
"The financial condition of my in-laws is not something to which I am privy." He looked at his hands. "I would rather not involve them, anywise."
"Ah, Rector Wentworth, pride and greed are sins are they not?"
The question took Edward aback. He had no idea as to the direction Levant might be leading him. "Yes, of course. The Scripture is clear that both are abhorrent to the Lord."
"Then, perhaps it is a good thing that you are reluctant to come to terms. Perhaps you should move on to another parish. I do not know that I wish a man willing to sacrifice not only the congregation he claims to love, but his own family's livelihood, because he is too prideful to ask for assistance. Or that he is too close with his purse. Come on man, it is not thirty pieces of silver, it is only fifty pieces of paper." Pollard leant back in his chair. A look of satisfaction spread across his face.
The Rector sat stunned at the man's allusion. He had known from the moment of their meeting that he and Levant were not destined to be friends, but he had thought it merely a bad match in their personalities. He now saw it for what it was, raw hatred on the part of Levant.
As he was a bout to speak, Levant continued. "Perhaps that young fellow that assists you might be more amenable to the position. He seems the sort willing to make the necessary sacrifices for his flock." He puffed on the cheroot. He seemed to be giving Edward more time to come to terms.
Perhaps he was being prideful. Frederick would never know if he gave Levant the money and both knew that even if that happened, repayment of the money would never be demanded. Was it greed that kept him from giving over the fifty pounds? Was he willing to sacrifice the congregation to the likes of Cooper or any other man that Levant would approve? Would he truly uproot Catherine at such a delicate time just to keep from giving Levant the money?
As Edward thought, Levant gathered the coins into the bag and tossed it away from him. "Wentworth, I know that your brother is a wealthy man and so I have my doubts whether you are truly poor or merely bleating to keep me from what is rightfully due me. I have put up with your palaver about the cost of the living and now, you think that I will be wooed with gold! I have tolerated your undermining me when it comes to my enclosing the Bramford lands and pious sermons about loving the unlovable and that the Hand of Providence -- "
Edward heard no more. Levant's nattering had made him realise something vital.
The Rector stood and came to stand just at the front of the desk. Levant paused to watch what he might do. He thought to continue but closed his mouth instead. The two men stared at one another.
"Well, Wentworth! Speak up," he barked.
The Rector stood quietly. The silence was becoming uncomfortable, and Levant squirmed in his seat.
Suddenly, Edward found his voice. "First, Mr. Levant, I must apologise to you. You are correct in that my brother is a wealthy man. And a very generous one, I might add. He provided for me in a way that I had not expected, nor had sought." Pointing to the bag, he said, "It was my brother who gave me that gold and you are right, we hoped you would be 'wooed' by it. That amount of money, in these times, in gold -- we certainly did hope -- "
Edward leant on the desk and this caused Levant to lean away. The look on the Rector's face and the tone of his voice made Levant wonder about the sanity of the man.
"For these tricks I am truly sorry. You are right. I was bleating. I have fifty pounds I can give you, but I was crying poverty in hopes that you might show mercy. I see now that was a foolish notion. You are not a merciful man and such things are disgusting to you." Edward could feel the heat rising to his face and his words were coming faster and stronger.
"But I must also thank you. You made me realise something that is more important than all of our petty manoeuvreing and artfulness."
Levant chuckled, warily. "And what was this?" He pushed himself further back in his chair, as though he was not sure the Rector might not jump up on the desk and come even closer.
"You made me see that all the money and all the gold and all the careful speaking could not secure for me this position, for it was not by your hand that it was give to me -- "
Levant broke in, "No, that would have been the hand of my dear, sweet grandmother that gave you the living -- "
"No!" Edward cried. "Your grandmother was a dear woman. A woman to the manor born, and one who understood her responsibilities very well, but even she did not give me this situation!"
The confusion on Levant's face was clear. He racked his brain to think of any other of his relations who could have given the living. There were none. He looked at the Rector as though he were indeed, mad.
"Do you not see it, Levant? No matter what we decide here today, it is of little consequence. We are merely human agents."
The Rector's talk was so agitated and bewildering to Levant that he stood and moved further from the desk. He walked over to the windows. "What do you mean ... we are merely human agents? Have you been seeing apparitions and visions? Better to go to Rome with that sort of talk, Wentworth!"
"You misunderstand me. You said it yourself -- the Hand of Providence that I preach is in this to the fullest extent. More than your grandmother, it was God Himself gave me this situation. And only God can take it from me."
Levant turned and looked at the rector. "You have driven yourself mad, Wentworth. You truly believe that God gave you this parish?" He snorted and turned back to the view out the window. "Not much of a gift, I would say," he muttered under his breath.
"Yes I do," Edward said. He felt calmer now and more in control of himself, but what he had said, and what he had further to say, would sound wild and insane to a man like Levant. "You have accused me of pride and greed. At times, of these, I may very well be guilty, but not in the case. I indeed have the fifty pounds, but I would sooner eat it for my dinner than give it to you."
"What?" cried Levant as he turned and glared at the rector.
"You heard me." Edward took a step towards Levant, who took a step away. " I would just as soon go home and burn fifty pounds than see it in your hands -- if I were to give it, it would be as good as thirty pieces of silver then!" He reached back and swept the pouch off the desk and shook it in Levant's direction. "This is a fair price for the living. We both know it. But you have threatened to replace me with the likes of my curate. Or, no doubt any other man willing to pay the price can have the title of Rector of Crown Hill, no matter what kind of man he might be!" Without looking, Edward tossed the sack back towards the desk. "You could not care less who stands in that pulpit, so long as you are paid a good price. The good people of Crown Hill have none of your sympathy."
Levant began to laugh. "I thought for a moment that you were gone round the bend, Rector. Now I see your game. But it will not succeed. You are right when you say that I am not a merciful man. Neither am I a stupid one. You cannot frighten me with your thunderings about God Himself appointing you to this place, and you cannot work up any guilt on my part about how I might choose your successor." He took his seat behind the desk and indicated that Edward should take his. "The fact remains that I will give the living to the man who meets my price. And if that is not you, it will be another -- and you will cease to be the rector. That is my wish, not the Hand of Providence!"
Edward moved back to the front of the desk, but remained on his feet. "God placed me here. Whether I am called Rector or am a man of private means, it makes no difference, and only God can remove me from this place. I was put here to care for these people. They are worth all that I have. If I must, I will take this gold and what other monies I have and live off them. I will find odd work around the village and continue to minister as I can. You cannot take that from me, you cannot stifle me. I would, in fact, be more free to speak about your enclosing Bramford. More free to preach what I believe. You could not stop me. The Bishop in Shrewsbury could not stop me. The Archbishop of Canterbury could not stop me! This place, and these people are worth all that I have."
He looked at the bag. Edward had mused such things in the privacy of his thoughts, but now they had weight and meaning in his heart. It was the idea of the freedom of which he had told Catherine. A freedom that he had never known before. The thought of such freedom made him reach for the gold.
Chapter 2, Part Two
"Good lord, Levant. The man is crazed! Take his money and be done with this." Daniel Randwick muttered through gritted teeth. He had heard enough of the exchange between Levant and the Rector to know that his plans were about to change drastically.
In the latter summer months, he had set about to cultivate a close association with Levant and through it, using subtle persuasion, manipulate the two seats in Parliament connected to Bramford. But, as Rosamond's mission had come to light and fate had decreed the passing of Poor Pollard Levant sooner than any could have guessed, it looked to be necessary for Randwick to give the fool precisely what he had wanted from the onset. "I was reluctant to mortgage this pile of rock for you, Pollard, but now it looks as though to keep my hand in things, I will have to use a more direct approach." Taking a deep breath, he grasped the handles of the double doors and threw them open.
The doors burst open and both the occupants of the room turned. Randwick looked innocently from one man to the other. "Dash it, Levant. I am sorry, I did not realise that you were entertaining."
Glaring at Edward, Levant sneered, "I would not call this entertainment. Could you please leave us, Randwick?"
"I hope you will excuse me, Rector," he said apologetically. Walking further in the room, Randwick said, "I really must speak with you, Pollard. It is a very urgent matter." His look and tone of voice confirmed his words.
"I will be finished here in a few moments, then I will -- "
"Please, sir. Now."
With an exasperated snort, Levant pushed himself up and followed Randwick into the hall. "What is it, Randwick? I have important business with the Rector -- "
Having pulled the doors shut, Daniel stepped well away and motioned Levant to him. "Don't be a fool! The whole house knows you and the Rector have business! The man claims that God has placed him here and you are tussling over fifty pounds!"
Levant was surprised. He knew that the Rector had been a bit loud, but did not think the same for himself. "Yes, well, this is a private matter. It is very unseemly to eavesdrop, young man."
Daniel had a notion of mentioning that being in his very presence was unseemly, but chose to forgo the pleasure. "Thank your stars that I have been!" hissed Randwick. "You are about to ruin all your plans for the enclosure -- for the cheap pleasure of fifty pounds!" He stepped back a little and took a deep breath. "Don't be so blind, man!"
"What do you mean? Wentworth is an inconvenience, but certainly not powerful enough to stop me!"
"True. Even if he remains the rector of Crown Hill, alone he would not have the authority to stop you. Even his testimony at the hearings for enclosure would not carry much weight -- as the rector. But if he is willing to become a private man and support himself just to work against you -- " Randwick took a step closer and lowered his voice even more. "The man is a zealot, Pollard! Zealots attract other zealots. The common man admires those willing to sacrifice everything for a cause, especially a man that is willing to sacrifice everything while it costs them nothing! Enclosing Bramford is not going to endear you to the population! If Wentworth is willing to support himself -- humiliate himself by leaving a position with a certain social standing -- he will have supporters trailing by the cartload up to London and voicing their opposition to you!"
Randwick stepped back and lowered the finger that had been tapping Levant's chest.
Levant studied Randwick's avid expression. "Perhaps you are right. I must do something ... "
Randwick fished in his breast pocket. "Do not allow a desire to best this man blind you to what is important," he cried as he opened his wallet, "I will give you fifty pounds." He took a note from the wallet and stuffed it into Pollard's coat. "There -- do not be such a fool that you will cut off your nose to spite your face."
Levant pulled out the note and glanced down at it. He shoved it back in his coat, and said, "Thank you, Daniel. You are quite a sport." He smiled and folded his arms. "Now that you have brought the enclosure into the conversation, it puts me in mind of something else that requires my attention. Money being what it is for me, the Rector's bit will only put off the inevitable and as you are the one who brought up the subject of London -- if I must mortgage the Hall, those seats in Parliament will certainly be a temptation to anyone looking to invest in Bramford."
The old carbuncle was certainly not as stupid as he had thought! Even in the midst of all the blather about the living, and the nattering about the Providential Hand of God, Pollard showed himself to be a sly one indeed! Randwick grudgingly admired Levant's persistence in working him for the mortgage that would keep Bramford afloat. A mortgage which had been refused -- several times.
"I see your point," Randwick hissed. "In fact, I have come to this very same opinion when it comes to me holding a mortgage on the Hall, Pollard. Later, we can draw up some papers stating our intent, I shall give you a draft on my bank and that bit of business will be tidied up. Meanwhile, you must go back in there and make peace with your rector! He has the favour of the parishioners and you will need that in a very short time!"
Edward had watched the doors close behind Randwick and sagged in relief. His hands shook and his breath was short from his exertions. He picked up the pouch of gold and turned it over and over in his hands. He again thought about the brother who had given it to him. He smiled to himself and mused that the Captain would, no doubt, applaud his outburst.
Keeping the gold in his hand, he walked to the windows and took Pollard's place. The sun was brightening the clouds that blocked the blue of the sky. What am I doing? Can I truly do this? Can I leave the Parish to Cooper, or to one as low -- or worse?
For all his high-blown talk about being a private man and the freedom it would allow him, he knew that to leave the position in the church to a hireling would prove him to be no better than Levant. In fact, knowing the destructive power of such a thing, and allowing it to come to pass, would prove him to be worse than the likes of Levant.
He returned to the desk and dropped the bag. His foolish, selfish notions and imprudent tongue had endangered all the he held dear and he prayed that he would be allowed to undo the damage.
The doors opened and Levant entered the room and took his place behind the desk again.
Both men stared at the bag. Neither seemed prepared to make a move.
Reaching for the pouch, the Rector said, "I am sorry Mr. Levant. I think I have -- "
"Ah, not so fast Wentworth, not so fast." Levant took the gold out of the Rector's hand. Edward could feel the braided cord, which held the bag shut lightly slip over his palm. Levant looked down at the purse and then at Edward. He began to casually bounce the bag with one hand. With the fingers of the other, he looped the cord in and out. He suddenly leant down, opened a drawer and tossed the little sack in. "We are agreed then." He straightened and smoothed his coat. "When I return to town, I shall have my solicitor draw up a paper for -- "
It took a moment for Levant's actions to penetrate the Rector's stupor. With neither a grovelling apology on his part, nor disparaging remarks on Levant's, the confrontation was finished. Determined to be completely and irrevocably installed as Crown Hill's rector, Edward reached into his coat and drew out the two folded sheets. "I have been in this occupation for a while, sir. I am very familiar with these matters." He opened the papers and laid them before Levant. "I am sure that you will find things all in order." He stood back and clasped his hands behind him, hoping to give a gesture of openness.
Without touching the paper, Levant glanced at it and snorted. "I suppose that a man of God would not bamboozle one of the flock. Would he?" He raised his brow.
"No," was the simple answer.
Levant called for Randwick. "Good to have a gentleman witness this sort of thing," he said. Tom came at the call and said that Mr. Randwick had retired upstairs. Tom witnessed the signing and then Tom's mark was witnessed. Levant's copy was swept into the drawer along with the gold. Edward's was safely back in his breast pocket. It was over and all was legal.
After a curt dismissal by Levant, Edward stepped into the hall and made his way back to the entryway. Just as Tom handed him his hat, a familiar woman's voice met his ear. "Pardon me, sir. Are we acquainted?"
It took a moment for the voice to break through his jumbled thoughts. Turning to look, the Rector saw her. The woman with which he had shared a coach. He knew immediately that she must be the woman who had all of Crown Hill speculating her purpose. Edward was speechless and stood gaping at the woman standing on the stairway.
"Yes, I believe we are. I hope that you have not troubled yourself to return the handkerchief I lent you. As I told you, I have more than enough." The woman tilted her head and smiled at Edward.
"Your beard has grown in remarkably thick for such a short a time."
Just as Edward was about to speak, a man stepped out of the shadows and came to stand next to the woman. He placed a hand on her shoulder. "Good day to you, Rector Wentworth. I see you and Levant have settled things. I hope all is to your satisfaction."
He stood taking in the scene. This woman that had captivated his thoughts was obviously at home in these questionable circumstances. She was obviously not bothered by the physical closeness of the young man Randwick. Even if the gossip were not completely true, this woman was not of the character which Edward's imagination had bestowed upon her. He mumbled something he thought appropriate and hurried out the door.
"Good-bye, Rector." Randwick called. In a quieter voice, he said, "Do come again." To Rosamond, "I was not aware that you were acquainted with the Rector Wentworth. How could this be, considering that you have not been to Church since your arrival?" Randwick teased.
She leant against him and said, "He and I shared the coach when I travelled here. I was not aware that he was the rector of this quaint, tumbled down village. All I knew was that I liked him. How funny. The world really is a very small place." She mused for a moment upon the meeting and then turned to face Randwick. "The Rector is the least of our concerns. Were you able to find out anything in your prowling?"
"We must watch Pollard closely. I have been listening and if I am not mistaken, he has come into some money -- " Randwick kept his tone inconclusive. There was certainly no need to worry Rosamond with any of his petty financial dealings, like the mortgage.
" -- and his first instinct may be to run to town -- "
"-- and in a fit of sense, though not given to those often -- he may go to Demarest. We cannot have that, now can we?"
Randwick offered her his arm and they began down the stairs.
Dinner had been a martyrdom! The Rector had returned from his calls in high spirits. Higher spirits than Louisa had yet to see him. This gaiety had overflowed into the dining room. So much so, that Mrs. Graham had even smiled as she served. Mrs. Wentworth had done nothing to discourage his antics and had even encouraged several of his more uproarious stories.
"All that laughter and amusement. They have completely forgotten Frederick. They behave as if he no longer exists. They seemed so close when he was here. But now ... " she muttered.
Louisa turned from the window and looked at the tiny room for the thousandth time that day. The idea of staying locked away was becoming abominable, but she had no desire to go downstairs and share in the Wentworths hilarity. Since they were so obviously lacking in familial feeling, it would be her responsibility to uphold Frederick's memory. She would go down, but she would walk and take some air.
She remembered that her cloak was hanging on a peg by the kitchen door, and Graham would still be cleaning up after dinner. Though she would not have to answer to the housekeeper about her intentions, she did not wish to see anyone. This being the case, she would have to find something else to wear.
The sun had burned off the light fog of morning, but it was still a bit chilly. Opening the wardrobe, she looked over her own dresses and found nothing that would help her out of doors. Moving things around, she noticed a pile of cloth in the corner. She pulled it out and found it to be the heavy linen smock-frock Frederick had worn when he had hunted with Charles at Uppercross. She had not seen it since they had married and thought nothing about it. It was obvious that he had forgotten it when packing his chest for Plymouth. It would be perfect.
Standing before the mirror, Louisa looked at herself in the coat. Though it was buttoned, it hung ridiculously from her slender frame. She turned up the sleeves and held it close, hoping to make it look less comical. But just as his nightshirt was a huge fit and nearly swept the floor, the coat was the same. She would wear it nonetheless. It was his and she relished the acrid smell of gun powder and the faint scent of a long ago cigar that clung to the fabric.
Not wishing to draw any attention to herself, Louisa eased the door closed behind and made her way to the stairs. As she had thought earlier, Graham would be in the kitchen and so the back door was out of the question, as privacy was her aim. She hoped that the Wentworths would be closeted away, together in the study and not in a position to see her sneak out the front door.
"Of course it is no bother, Mrs. Junkins -- Beatrice."
Hearing Catherine's voice in the entryway, Louisa stopped and stood close to the wall. Listening, she learned that Mrs. Junkins too had felt the need to take some fresh air and had decided to bring two dozen eggs to the Rectory.
"I have been feeling a bit spindly today -- and the best cure is a good brisk airing -- Mr. Junkins will be coming along in a short while, with Arthur and the cart, to take me home." Mrs. Wentworth's reply was muffled and unhearable. "Well, the dear man insisted, what was I to do?"
"Thank you, Graham, when you've put away the eggs, please bring us tea. Have you seen Mrs. Wentworth? Of course not, she is upstairs. Bring us three cups. I shall fetch her and we can all have a lovely visit."
Hearing her name and realising Mrs. Wentworth was coming up the stairs to find her, Louis hurried the other way and down the back stairs. As she descended, she hoped that Graham was slow in bringing the eggs to the kitchen. Looking around, she saw the room empty and made for the door. She glanced to the pegs that held the housekeeper's things, and old pelisse of Catherine's and what looked to be a gardening hat, perhaps the Rector's. On impulse, she snatched the hat, jammed it on her head and was out the back door before anyone was the wiser.
Louisa ran until she had crossed a field and come to a roadway that was really little more than a path. It did not seem to be well-travelled and that suited the young Mrs. Wentworth. She felt completely alone in her missing of Frederick -- the others seemed to be ignoring the fact that he had left. At dinner, there had been no mention of him at all. Nothing in their manner or conversation gave a hint that they thought anything about the matter. She was his sole mourner.
She walked a while, pitying herself and wondering about her new family. Not wearing her own coat, the pockets did not hold her gloves as did her cloak. Dejected, she jammed her hands into the deep pockets of the smock. In one pocket, she felt cloth of a sort and in the other something spiny and sharp.
Out of the left pocket, Louisa pulled bits of muslin cloth, which she recognised to be shot patches. In amongst them, she found two misshapen lead balls. From the other pocket, she pulled hazelnuts. Two were still safe in their papery, frilly husks while the others were gleaming brown, waiting to be hulled and eaten.
It was obvious that Frederick had last worn the coat the day they had walked to Winthrop. He and Charles had been shooting early in the morning and then had joined she and Henrietta and Mary on their walk.
Looking at her find, Louisa could not help but remember the day. She remembered how, after her brother and he had joined the party, he had seemed to prefer her company over that of anyone else. How they had made a game of him jumping her over the many stiles they had encountered. She thought about the beautiful speech he had made to her as they gleaned the very nuts she held.
Her eyes stung as all her thoughts brought her back to this place. He was gone and all she had of him was his coat and a handful of the past.
At the same time Louisa plotted her flight from the Rectory, Pollard Levant had been excusing himself from the company of Rosamond and Randwick. He had determined to take a ride and do what he could to shake off the anger he felt. The more he thought about his meeting with Wentworth, the more angry he became.
Allowing his horse her way, Levant repeated the morning in his mind and at every turn, was able to best the Rector, keep the gold and bilk him of the fifty pounds. As he had gone over the meeting a second time, he noticed he was closing on the Rectory. He thought a moment about stopping and harrying the Rector a bit -- who was to know what might come of that? -- when he saw a figure run from back of the house and across the field adjoining.
At first it looked to be a man. The coat and hat were definitely those of a man. But it was not the Rector, as the form was too slight. Then, in the taller grass, he could not help but see that it was a woman. Whoever it was raised her skirts to walk. He continued to watch and was rewarded for his trouble. While hopping a stile, the broad-brimmed hat slipped from the wearer's head and revealled her identity.
Ah, so this would be the Captain's charmer, he smirked. Now why might you be running from the Rectory? M-m-m.
He kept well back and watched the girl for some time. It came to him, as he watched, that the girl could perhaps be of use to him. With the Captain gone, there was no telling what the climate of the Rectory might be. It was not unknown for families to be quite vicious with one another -- especially in-laws.
Even if there is radiant harmony in the Wentworth household, there is no saying that I might not use her to my advantage. He pondered the public humiliation of the Rector were anything untoward to happen to this woman left in his care.
Mrs. Wentworth had come to a stop after walking on the road for a time. She seemed to be examining her hands. No matter. He would make his presence known and explore the possibilities the situation presented him.
"Mrs. Wentworth, I did not recognise you ... you are dressed a bit less fashionably than when last we met."
She had been so intent upon her mementoes she had not heard him ride up behind her. His voice startled her and as she turned to determine to whom the voice belonged, the patches, the misshapen lead balls and the nuts fell to the ground.
Seeing that her company was Levant, she took a step back and felt, rather than heard the crackling of the nuts under her shoes.
Dropping to the ground she began gathering her treasures. The tears on her face embarrassed her and seeing the crushed hazelnuts caused more to come.
Kicking his leg over the neck of his horse, Levant was down and on his knees beside her before a word of protest could be uttered.
"Thank you, Graham. I am sorry, Beatrice, I am unable to find Louisa anywhere. First, we can barely coax her from her room for meals and now," Catherine began to pour the tea, "she is nowhere to be found. It is difficult to understand the mind of one who is young and in love."
Stirring her tea, Mrs. Junkins said, "True, but she is bound to be in a bit of a fog, the Captain being gone so soon and all." She took a drink and continued, "If my mother were alive and dispensing advice, she would say it was time to beat the rugs!"
Catherine laughed. "Mine would bring out a pot of beeswax and require that all the furniture be polished within an inch of its life!" The women laughed more. It was interesting to find that mothers, no matter which side of the Atlantic, were very similar in their treatment of a broken heart.
"It is really of no matter," said Mrs. Wentworth. "I think there is no harm that she might come to if she is out on her own."
Continued in Part 2
© 2001 Copyright held by author