Love Suffers Long and Is Kind, Volume IV
Chapter 2, Part Three
"The patches and the shot I would expect to be found in a coat of that kind, very typical of a gentleman, but nuts?" They had stood and Levant placed the things he had gathered, in her hand.
Louisa coloured. "It is my husband's, of course. The nuts are from a walk we took ages ago. Nothing but sentimentality will make me keep them. Thank you, Mr. Levant." She took all that they had gathered and taking off the hat, placed it all gently in the bowl of it.
"You are quite welcome. I think you are a little sad -- missing your husband, eh?"
Louisa wished nothing more than his departure, but knew that she must be polite, if for no other reason than the Rector's sake. "Yes, I do miss him. I was walking in hopes of lifting my spirits ... "
"But", he said, taking the reins of his horse, "it does not seem to have worked. Lifting your spirits, I mean. It is a lovely tribute to him -- wearing his coat, I mean."
Before she could speak, he continued, "I know how it is. When life seems most cruel, the most soothing thing I know is to seek out nature. It seems to bring immediate rest to a weary soul."
They began to walk along the road together, the horse following amiably along behind.
"I know for you, it is an awful time, your husband being snatched away -- and to such an uncertain fate."
Louisa looked up at him with a pale and shocked expression. "Now, my dear Mrs. Wentworth, you needn't hide your true feelings from me. I understand completely. The dread and the worry are almost more than one can bear at times, I know. But should the worst happen, you know that there are many who will be nearby to support you."
As they walked, she looked longingly at the field she had crossed to get to the road they now walked. If she were to call her apologies and begin to run, perhaps he would not follow. She began to purposely drift towards the road's edge. He did not seem to notice.
I must sympathise with you, Mrs. Wentworth. Many look at the external shell of a person and feel that they know all the circumstances of a person." He glanced her way and noticed she had moved from his side. He did nothing to change his course, but began to speak more vigourously. "For example, most would see you, and believe your sadness is simply explained by your husband's leaving. It takes one truly sensitive to know the deeper fears you hold -- am I right?"
Louisa opened her mouth, but realised she had no firm understanding of him and what he said. It did not matter, as he cut her off.
"Another example is me! People look and say, 'There goes Levant, of the Hall -- ' and what they comprehend to be a life of money and ease ... " He looked at her quickly and then launched off agin. "But with these blessings, come great responsibilities, I assure you. While I do have much, I hold the livelihoods -- the very lives of so many in my hands. It is quite a burden at times."
They continued to walk, neither saying anything. One was calculating the effect of his words, the other watching for any opportunity to bolt.
"You see, when I came to Bramford, I was rather idealistic. I thought that I would be able to use my position to improve the lot of the tenants and those around the Hall. But," he grimaced, "when I began to look at the books, I found that much -- nay -- most of the family resources were gone -- "
"That must have been a great shock," Louisa cried.
"Yes, it was indeed. My grandmother has an impeccable reputation in the district, I would hate for the truth of the matter to surface and become known." He glanced her way and continued, "Anywise, I find that, at the insistence of my creditors, mind you, I must do extensive trimming to the household budget. This means that I will need to let go several faithful, long-time employees. Most, I am able to help find other positions, but there is one who going to be difficult to place." Levant went on to describe the employee, and the situation.
"So you see, Mrs. Wentworth, this fellow will be quite a challenge, and with his family being what it is, I worry that I might be dooming him to complete and abiding poverty. Can you see why, on this ordinary March day, my mind is burdened? I feel it deeply that I literally hold a man's fate in my hands."
Louisa had been carefully listening to the man and had begun to feel pity for him. It occurred to her that the world continued, no matter what her circumstances. She looked into the hat, and said quietly, "Yes, I see that you have a very difficult decision." It embarrassed her a bit that she was crying over old cloth patches and hazelnut husks -- to her knowledge, her husband was well and would continue to be so -- Frederick's hat contained nothing so vital as a man's occupation.
Levant stopped and turned to Louisa. "Mrs. Wentworth, you are quite astute for one so young. I wish I were so, perhaps it would not seem beyond my capabilities to find another place for a religious man as -- " He stopped. Levant watched Louisa for a moment and when she showed that she had understood, he continued. "Good lord, I have told you."
She stood rigid, shocked by what she had heard. Her mind raced as she realised her family's plight.
"I never meant to tell you, of all people, this terrible dilemma. Oh, had I only kept to myself, but you are so easily confided in, your manner is so engaging -- "
"Is there nothing that can be done? Sure there is another way to economise -- " Louisa's voice was filled with panic.
"I assure you, Mrs. Wentworth, I have searched all other avenues. My grandmother and her overgenerous nature left me in this predicament. I wish I had another remedy ... " His voice trailed off and he watched her for a moment. After a time, he said, "surely you do not think that I would enjoy such a thing -- possibly ruining a man?"
She realised she had made him feel guilty. "No, certainly I do not think such an abominable thing. I -- I see you have been left little choice." She turned and said quietly, "How horrible for the Rector."
Levant stepped closer to her and said, "May I -- "
He was cut off by a garbled voice calling out to them.
"Mrs. Wentworth! Are you all right?" The voice belonged to Joshua Junkins.
Both Louisa and Levant turned to the voice. Louisa was torn. Junkins afforded her a way from Levant's company, but if she were to stay, perhaps, together, they might puzzle out a solution to the Wentworth's impossible circumstance.
Joshua walked closer as Levant cursed himself that he had not heard the man approaching. "Are you all right, Mrs. Wentworth?" Joshua asked again. He knew that the girl did not understand him well, but hoped that she might grasp the drift of his words. "Mrs. Wentworth."
Louisa looked up and saw Junkins pat the seat of the cart and grasp his chin with his fingers. It puzzled her for a moment and then she realised that he offered her a ride home to the Rector. Again, she was torn, but her natural aversion to the man Levant, won out and she began to walk to the cart.
Levant, seeing how things stood, took her arm and cried, "Now wait a moment! I would be remiss in my duties as a gentleman, were I to allow this! Do you even know this monstrosity?"
Louisa whirled to face the man. "Of course I know this man! He is a dear friend of the Rector's -- and my husband." She pulled her arm from his grasp. "I think I must go now, Mr. Levant."
He barred Louisa's way and said quickly, "Mrs. Wentworth, I certainly will not put you in the custody of a man of no reputation -- I shall see you home!"
Louisa watched over Levant's shoulder as he spoke. "I do not think so. Please, release me." She indicated with a nod of her head. Levant half turned and looked in Junkins' direction.
He let go of her arm and stepped aside that she might mount the cart, which had been drawn closer than he recalled.
Mounting his horse, he said with venom, "Threatening me with that pitchfork will get you nowhere. I shall see that -- See here, get along with you then!" He pulled hard on the reins, forcing his horse to back away from the fork. Giving another tug, he dug his heels into the horses sides and rode off.
Joshua wheezed a laugh and walked back to the box of the cart, replacing the pitchfork. Looking up to Louisa, he said, "Shall we be off to the Rectory?" He took the rope that haltered Arthur, and started off.
"Thank heavens this is the last stop. I am fagged tonight, I do not mind saying, Martin." Timothy Harville took hold of the first step of the accommodation ladder. He heavily pulled himself up to the next.
Since arriving in Plymouth, his fondest desire had been to free himself of his walking stick -- and he had. For three days he had carried out all his duties without it. But as he drew himself up and over the side of the Laconia, the sight that met his eyes made him wish he carried it just then. He waved a hand to get the boy's attention.
"What is it, sir?" Martin cried. "Are those thieving blackguards back to steal somethin' else?"
Just days before, Harville and Martin had made their usual visitation of the Laconia and had been shocked to find two boys with hatchets. Having hacked the binnacle box lose from its station, they were attempting to wrestle it over the side. Since that discovery, two men had been posted as guards on each watch.
"Shhhh, Martin," Harville hissed. I do not think it to be our two young sneaks, but someone is aboard. Quietly now." He helped the younger man up and over. Silently, they sneaked and hide themselves behind the capstan.
They watched a man leaning upon the railing. He neither moved nor seemed to notice that he was no longer alone.
"Could it one of our own men, sir?"
I cannot see well enough to know." Harville said slowly, looking intently, hoping to identify the man. "But both are well-trained, I would hope that neither would be caught dead leaning on the railing -- even at this late hour. Besides, the fellow is too tall -- and he's not dressed like a sailor."
After watching the man for a bit longer, Harville determined it was time to take action. Pulling a pistol from his waist, he slowly cocked the hammer, and stepped out in the open.
"Do not move -- I do not wish to shoot -- who are you?" His voice was gruff and as serious as he could manage.
The man started and stood straight. Turning, he cried, "Good Lord in heaven, please, do not shoot me! I am here with the captain of the ship!"
"I am the captain of the Laconia," said Harville, "and you did not come with me." Keeping the pistol well-aimed, he slowly made his way closer. Martin followed, holding up a lantern and looking into all the shadows for any compatriots that might be waiting to set upon them.
"No, Harville, but he did come with me." A voice behind them said. "Acting Captain Harville, this is Charles Hayter. He will soon be my brother-in-law." The Captain walked over to the man at the rail. "You had best not shoot this one. He is a man dedicated to the Church, and to shoot him would put you at odds a much higher authority than even those at Whitehall."
Wentworth held up his lantern and made the round of introductions.
After a brief explanation of the Laconia's scandalous condition, Charles Hayter excused himself from the sailors, declaring it time to find a bed for the night.
Walking with Hayter to the ladder, Frederick said, "I thank you for bringing me all this way." Looking over to Harville and Martin, he smiled. "I hope that you will forgive the welcome of my crew. Most are not as delinquent as those first two curs we found with the dice in my cabin, nor are they usually so quick to threaten with arms. But, as you can see, this is a remarkable circumstance."
"It is all right, Captain. I enjoyed being of service. I am not happy about Charles illness, but this has been quite an adventure, I am generally bound to my duties in the country. Besides, it has given us an opportunity to become better acquainted." Climbing over the side, he stopped. "Again, thank you for the enjoyable day." Stopping part way down, he asked, "Might you recommend a particular inn?"
"The George is the best. There should be a big fellow -- his name is Gracious -- has a tattoo of a mermaid on his forearm. Tell him I have sent you. My name may not mean much when it comes to the treatment of my ship, but perhaps I still carry some weight with the local tradesmen." He offered his hand. "Again, thank you, Hayter."
After shipping the Captain's dunnage to the Moonshine, and rounding up a fit supper, the two officers settled into serious conversation about ship's business.
"Several of the warrants are full -- a surgeon with his own loblolly, I'll have you to know ... and that makes 110 men as of yesterday," Harville said, proud that the complement was shaping up so well.
"Any sign of a decent purser?" Frederick asked.
Timothy frowned. "No sir. And no one has come around today. I am thinking tomorrow I will go up to the hospital and see if there are any half-wits that can haul a line." Harville wiped his plate clean with a piece of bread.
"Hold off for a time on the hospital, we are near bursting with able-rated men now. Let us wait until the Laconia is clean and tidy, then we will make a last hard pull for ordinary sailors. I'm glad to hear about a decent surgeon and the other officers, but I have to tell you, the man who is responsible for bringing me an honest purser will have a bonus. Nothing I hate worse than being flayed by my own purser.
Harville laughed. "Aye, it is a might galling to hire the man to pick your own pocket." He wiped his hands of crumbs. "All in all, I am amazed. At the present state with France and with the press, we still got this many without all that much fuss! It is a testament to you, Captain." He pushed his plate back and finished his beer.
A hint of a smile touched Wentworth's lips. "Aye, many hoping that I can conjure prize money to fill their pockets, no doubt." Turning, he called, "Bring the brandy, Pym." Pym, the acting steward, was one of the old Laconias that had materialised to sign aboard.
When the decanter was brought and the glasses filled, Frederick continued, "With orders from the West Indies, I am certain everyone is slavering to be off. But with our girl stripped of everything including her modesty, I'm not certain that even I can do much for a time." He looked at his friend with a glint. He knew that his reputation and a sail to one of the few places left in the world which offered a hope of profitable captures, had brought many out of hiding in hopes of securing a decent sum of prize money. But, all through supper, Harville had been relating horrors of gross mistreatment at the hands of the Port Admiral's office and shipwrights alike.
Taking a drink, Harville said, "I knew I was dished when even Locke would not see me. I was there for hours, being told every few minutes that he would be free shortly. I figured I was fairly safe though, I was camped by the only door leaving his office. Then came his paper monkey with the news that the Admiral had suddenly been called away for the day and would not be returning. He'd taken a back way out. I was out-foxed when I thought myself so clever."
"So," Frederick said, "Locke had Darwin deliver the bad news to you. I don't know where Locke would be without his faithful, but very much put upon secretary."
Harville frowned. "This fella's name wasn't Darwin ..." his voice trailed off as he thought. "I believe it was Mabey. A very youngish man, still spotty. Who was this Darwin?"
"He was the secretary when I came just a few weeks ago." Frederick leant back and thoughtlessly toyed with his glass. In a moment, he brightened. "I have always liked the name Mabey -- so definitely indefinite. Perfect for a man charged with balancing the desires of Philistine like Locke, and an endless parade of man usually angry and armed." He smiled at the thought and took a deep drink.
Harville studied his master for a time. "Just right for someone posted to a capricious master like Locke. I am glad to see," he started, "That marriage has not dampened your wit or philosophical bent."
Frederick raised his eyes and looked at his friend. "Aye, there is a part of me that rejoices in my return. I had, in fact feared a loss of zeal for the entire enterprise of sailing."
The Captain's revelation brought a look of surprise to Harville's face.
Seeing the expression, the Captain continued, "But just drawing close enough for a whiff of the sea made me know such a vagary to be nonsense."
Harville smiled in agreement.
Pouring them both another glass, Frederick said, "And yet, even as I say those words, if it were in my power, I would give you the ship, the crew and all the glory that we might encounter on this voyage just to be in Shropshire, settling into a quiet evening with my wife." He didn't look at his friend for a time, but when he finally did, he exclaimed, "Dash it, Harville! You have always been soft in the head where marriage is concerned, and don't think that it does not stick in my throat to say this," Frederick scolded, "But I think I am now of the same opinion." He took a long drink and looked over the rim of his goblet.
Captain Harville said nothing, and with a leisurely satisfaction, finished his brandy.
"Well," Frederick said, "what have you to say for your victory?"
Sliding the glass away, Harville said, "Guilty on the charge, sir. I have never hidden my partiality for the wedded state. And, it is not with a little pride that I welcome you into the fold of the converted. Though, I am sorry that you had to leave the warmth of your new family so soon."
"Another bit of satisfaction for you -- it was very difficult telling her. Not at the time," he said, "but as my time to leave drew closer." Not wishing to pursue the conversation further, Frederick emptied his glass and smiled, "Many converts are grateful to those that bring them to the light. Some even try and bestow gifts. But while I am happy with my new found faith, the only reward I will allow is that smug grin you sport."
"Fair enough," Harville said with a nod to the Captain. "Though, might I ask just one favour of my novitiate?"
"Ask. I make no guarantee of my answer."
"Well sir, now that you are an ardent admirer of the matrimonial state and admit your own sorrow at leaving hearth and home ... "
"Yes, yes, Harville, get on with it! I know my own mind and besides, the novitiate is tired and wishes his bed -- "
"Then I will be blunt, Frederick. I have been here over a fortnight, and other than the first night at the Crown, I have always slept aboard with whatever crew each day has brought me. All this, even after I had secured a very good lease on a lovely house and my wife and children had arrived."
"A house -- and Elsa arrived so soon?" This surprised Frederick. The Harville household was remarkable for its ability to accommodate the naval life. If Elsa had arrived and there was a home to be lived in -- Frederick's eyes narrowed, "And so your request might be ... "
"Allow me to go home for the night. I've not slept beneath the same roof as my family in ever so long."
Frederick held an impassive look. Standing, he went to Timothy. "Request granted," he said, clapping him on the arm. "Greet your good lady for me and beg an invitation to dinner one night soon. And," he added, "I do not wish to see you here agin until Wednesday morning ... when you breakfast with me."
A wide smile broke over Timothy's face. "Thank you, Frederick." He began to gather his hat and coat. Just as he was pulling closed the door, he called out, "Oh, Captain."
"The longing eases after we have weighed and are well away -- when all possibility to run home is past."
"You had best run home, Harville. As pretty as you have made this old tub, I am certain I can find some sort of duty that would require the attentions of my second-in-command."
"Good night, Frederick."
"Good night, Timothy."
As soon as he was able, the Captain vowed to hire on a steward. He detested caring for his personal belongings. It was the one luxury of command which he had no hesitation in pressing to his full advantage. Not that his steward had much in the way of duties. Wentworth bathed himself, shaved himself, dressed himself; the only things left to the fellow was the maintaining and laying out of his clothes. That, along with the preparation and presentation of his meals would be all the duties the fellow, whoever he might be, would have. He was mostly simple to care for, but in these particular things, he was rather fastidious.
Wanting to be settled and not caring to have Pym, he began to shift some of his things from his sea chest to the various lockers in his sleeping cabin. As he shifted an armload of shirts, something clattered to the floor. Looking around, he saw it to be a small, blue-covered book of paper, no bigger than the palm of his hand. Tossing the shirts on his berth, he knelt and picked it up. Paging through it, he came to a penciled portrait. It was Louisa.
The quality of the picture was surprisingly good. He had no idea that she could draw. Now he understood the few times he had caught her gazing at herself in the mirror in their room. He had made light of it and passed it off as youthful vanity. But it seemed now that there had been no vanity, only a desire to capture the truest rendering of herself possible.
Frederick made his way to the better light of his writing desk and sat down, all the while looking at the
picture. In it, she was not looking directly at him, but away and to the side. She had drawn herself hair down, just as he liked her. It was pushed back, with only a slender tendril, sneaking its way over her shoulder. To his delight, she had captured the curve of her neck and the bones of her chest perfectly. Her shoulders were bare and her only adornment was the strand of blue beads.
Examining the face, he saw that she had struggled with some of the finer features, but had captured herself well, overall. The line of her jaw was particularly good. So good in fact that he had to struggle back from memories of following that line from her mouth, down her neck and beyond.
Closing the little book for a moment, he remembered her plea that no one but him ever see her, 'surprise.' He now knew why. It was quite provocative in its content, but he knew in his heart her precise meaning . . . by her own hand, she was giving herself to him in a way that most men never see their wives. This was the visible product of what she had said their second night together. "When you are away from me, and alone . . . lonely . . . I wish it to be me you think of to comfort yourself . . . my face . . . my body . . . me . . . no one else. I love you, Frederick, and I will do whatever I must to secure my rightful place in your mind . . . and your heart."
Opening the little book, he noticed that some of the other pages had writing on them. It was Louisa's spidery scrawl. He went to the beginning of the book and began with the first page.
My Dearest Husband Frederick, I hope that you are well and that your arrival in Plymouth and onto the Laconia was all you had looked forward to. You said that I had spoilt this return, but I am certain that you have found joy in being back on your beloved ship. Please do not think ill of me for the picture I have made you. There was not time for a proper portrait to be done, and I wished for you to have a likeness of me. Perhaps I was too bold in my pose, if that is the case, please forgive me.
"It is bold, my dear Loua, but there is certainly nothing to forgive," he murmured. He leant back, against one of the stern windows. Closing his eyes, he thought about the picture and the woman who had drawn it. It took very little time for him to realise that this picture might prove to be more a struggle than the comfort she had hoped.
Chapter 3, Part 1
Timothy Harville leaned back in his chair and took in the noise, noise which would annoyed him several fortnights ago: the everyday clamour of his little family at breakfast. At the moment, he was cuddling little Mark on his lap while his wife settled a dispute between the two older children. At last, the pair were excused from the table and Elsa began to clear away the dirty dishes. Her eyes met her husband's in frank apology for the disturbance.
Harville grinned and pressed his cheek to the tiny boy's downy head. Moments such as these were unspeakably precious; he intended to savour each one, quiet or not, as long as he was able. This youngest child, conceived and born during his time ashore, would be a baby no more when he returned. Harville pulled the boy closer and closed his eyes.
"Ah! Dear Captain, do not trouble yourself!" He raised his head to see Elsa's cousin Solveig come bustling in from the kitchen. "Please, allow me to assist!" Solveig swung the boy out of her father's lap, cooing, "Ve finish in the kitchen, young man, and leave Papa in peace, ya?"
"Thank you," murmured Harville. He did not want to let his son go, yet he did want time alone with Elsa. He gave her a long, careful look as he poured himself another cup of coffee. During his extended time ashore, he had come to better understand his wife and to see things he had never before noticed. This morning she looked worn out, even at such an early hour. Harville cocked an eyebrow at Elsa and pointed to her empty cup. "Join me for coffee?"
"But I ..." She glanced to the pile of dirty dishes in her hands and then back at her husband's cheerful face. "Oh, very well, Timothy," she said with a sigh. She returned to the table and pulled out the chair beside him. Her posture as she sat showed how glad she was for this interruption.
Harville leaned forward and covered her hand with one of his. "So, tell me, Mrs. Harville." His eyes twinkled into hers. "What is your pleasure, milady? I am yours to command."
"Oh, Timothy, I ..." Elsa dimpled; for a moment her eyes shone the prospect of an entire day with her husband. Then the practical side of her nature took over; she swallowed and studied her coffee. One by one, she dropped three lumps of sugar into the cup.
"I ... hate to ask this of you, especially today, but ..." Elsa glanced at the door for a moment. "We simply must do something about finding him employment -- my cousin, that is. Do you suppose ..."
As if on cue, a strong, pulpit-trained voice sounded in the front parlour, reciting carefully: "What. Where. Which. When. Ah! Elsa!"
The Reverend Elias Tweedt came lumbering into the dining room, a book of English grammar in his hand. "Did you hear, Elsa?" he boomed, grinning broadly. "I did not say 'ven,' I say 'ven'!
Elsa kept a perfectly straight face. "Very good, Cousin Elias. That is progress, indeed."
Reverend Tweedt stood in the doorway, smiling in his friendly way at his cousin and her husband. All at once, he appeared to realise the awkward nature of his interruption. He coloured and hastily took himself off.
"He is a considerate sort of chap, I'll give him that," Harville remarked, after the door had swung shut. "But Elsa, I told you before, there is nothing I can do for him. Parsons are the worst luck imaginable! Even if I wanted him aboard the Laconia, Wentworth'd never stand for it."
"But we cannot have him here, either! How was I to know he was coming with Solveig?" she replied in an urgent whisper. "It isn't as if I ... We simply must find work for him, Timothy!" Elsa broke off speaking, annoyed to be arguing on his one day at home. She began again, careful to keep her tone light.
"He needs to improve his English so that he may take a church in America," she reasoned. "That is not so hard. There must be something he can do on board ship, as a man and not as a minister. Swab decks. Mend sails."
"Aye, but does he know how?"
"Well ... no. I doubt it."
"Look, Elsa. Here are the warrants I need: a second officer, a purser, a personal steward for the Captain. Tweedt's not any of these. He'd be perfect as schoolmaster for the mids. But how could he teach them if he doesn't speak English?"
"His writes it very well, Timothy," Elsa persisted. "And he is improving. You must have work for such a good-hearted, honest man."
"An honest man, aye, but ..." Harville became very quiet as her words flooded his mind. A tiny smile came his lips. Perhaps ...
"Nah, Wentworth'd have my hide! A parson as purser!" he muttered. "But ... an honest man ..." Harville took a sip of his coffee and turned the idea over in his mind. "Aye, and the usual double-dealing bilge blister is what we'll get, and don't I know it! Robbing us blind while we pay him for the pleasure!" Now that he thought about it, this Tweedt fellow couldn't be any worse -- he certainly didn't look like bad luck. And anyway, if he were known as 'Mister' and not as 'Reverend,' would he actually be a parson?
And then Harville remembered the bonus his Captain had offered for the signing of a trustworthy man for the office. Now it was his turn to study the contents of his coffee cup. Unbeknownst to his wife -- or to Wentworth -- he had 'borrowed' some of the money to rent this house from the funds allotted to secure the crew. The bonus would greatly reduce the amount he owed Wentworth and besides ...
In an instant, Harville's mind was made up. "Tweedt!" he called out, in as penetrating a tone as the Reverend's.
"Ya?" The door opened and Elias Tweedt's blonde head poked through.
"Come join us for coffee, Tweedt," Timothy offered, with the friendliest of smiles. At the man's blank expression, he looked to his wife. She translated. "Tell me, Cousin," he continued, as he took hold of the coffee pot and pulled forward a fresh cup, "do you like the sea?"
"That's the last of it, then," James Benwick muttered, as he sat back on his heels. "Every one of these boxes -- every drawer and cupboard in the house, everywhere I can think to look, even in this elevated rat's nest -- nothing." He mopped his brow and looked to Jonathan Yee, who was also stripped to his shirtsleeves for work in the musty attic. "Where else do you suggest, Yee? Unless we begin peeling back the wainscoting to search for hidden passages ..."
"There is nothing, sir. The strong box and the compartment in your great uncle's bedchamber wall you already know about," Yee replied. "And as for that walled-up room in one of the cellars ..."
"Ah, the mysterious secret room," Benwick grinned. "Yea, we searched long and hard for that one! I think we can put that rumour to rest."
"The thing about concealment, sir, is that Madam was bedridden. One of the staff would have had to have hidden that will. And we didn't."
"And the whole point of a making another is that it be found and used, " Benwick agreed. He groaned as he got to his feet; he had been on his knees for quite some time. "I say we leave off here. I'll send my brother Ben to that solicitor's head office in London. He'll wear them down. If its there, they'll find it -- or they'll forge one just to be rid of him!"
The narrow attic door opened with a scrape to admit Old Mr. Yee. In his hand he held a small silver tray. "Excuse me, sir," he bowed and addressed Benwick, without a trace of the effort it had cost him to climb so many flights of stairs. "Just now, this is delivered by messenger."
"Thank you, Yee. Let me see if it requires a reply." Benwick took the letter, opened it, and from its folds removed a card the size of a theatre ticket. As he did this, Old Mr. Yee directed a speaking look at his son. The younger man hastily pulled on his coat and gloves and stood at rigid attention.
James studied the paper thoughtfully for a moment. "I suppose the messenger has left. Do you think the boy -- Charlie, isn't it? -- could find an address on Laura Place? I will need to send an answer right away."
"There is no need, sir. The man is downstairs, waiting."
"Excellent. I won't be long. Oh, and I will be needing my dress uniform this evening." After retrieving his coat, Benwick headed downstairs for the library.
Old Mr. Yee turned to his son. "Always wear the coat," he muttered, as he brushed the dust from its shoulders. "No matter the heat, no matter the dirt, no matter the inconvenience to you or the damage done to it. Never remove the coat. The Captain may do so, not you." He raised an eyebrow. "I thought you knew that."
"But ... yes, sir." The younger man swallowed his answer. How could he tell his father that Captain Benwick had expressly requested it?
"A proper liveried servant is the man downstairs, " Old Mr. Yee remarked, as they both left the room and made their way toward the stairs. "From the household of a Vicountess. The Captain is making his way very well, better than I expect."
A tiny smile formed on the old butler's face. "Do you notice? Already he forgets to be self-conscious, he forgets that as a boy we know him. He begins to order us about as he should, as if we are his sailors. Yes. Madam would be pleased."
"If only he could find that will ..."
"What makes you think it is lost?" Old Mr. Yee's smile appeared again. "I have the other copy," he said softly. "As a safe-guard. The Captain is right in what he thinks. The lawyer in London has it."
"Then why didn't you say someth ..."
Old Mr. Yee silenced his son with a wave of his hand. "It is Madam's expressed wish that I do not," he said severely. "Only if the other is not found am I to produce it. And it will be found."
"But he has been turning this house upside down!" Jonathan whispered back.
"As well he should." Old Mr. Yee continued to descend the stairway, unpeterbed. "There is no waste of his time. As the scriptures say, 'Know well the condition of thy flocks ...'."
At the landing, Old Mr. Yee turned to face his son.
"No more question," he said severely. "You see to the dress uniform. The Captain has a party tonight, I think. Madam would be pleased. Yes."
"Very good, sir." Jonathan Yee took himself off, but not without a shake or two of his head over his inscrutable father.
When Elizabeth unfolded her napkin at breakfast, she found a letter wedged beneath her plate. It was written in an unknown hand and had been franked at Northampton. With a frown, she broke the seal and spread it out on the table.
Forgive the Intrusion, but I simply can not help myself. The News I have to relate is of such an Excellent Nature!
Mother and I shall be Returning to Bath within the Next Few Days. It would be a Most Extreme Pleasure to be allowed call on the Morning after our Arrival. Please do not think me boorish to desire the Pleasure of your Most Beauteous company.
Very Truly, Most Sincerely Yours,
Elizabeth's brows raised in surprise. Rushworth! I had quite forgotten him! she thought. She had no idea that such a ponderous young man could express himself so exuberantly. This letter was written several days ago. That would mean ...
"Good morning, dears!" Mary chirped cheerfully, as she opened the door of the dining room and shut it behind her with a bang. "Here I am!" Her countenance fell when she saw her sister. "Oh. Elizabeth. You're alone?"
Elizabeth looked up but said nothing. Mary was wretchedly early -- and no amount of good-humoured nattering could cover it. She knew she was having a late breakfast, but it was not so late as all that! But Mary's disappointment appeared to be short-lived. She eagerly made her way to the breakfast table.
"I simply must show you what was waiting for me at the inn when I returned yesterday!" Mary rummaged in her reticule and brought out a card. "Look at this!" she said, with a smile of triumph. "Lady is truly the most excellent of persons! She has sent me her ticket for the Concert this evening! Isn't that lovely? So, I shall not be left behind after all!" Mary pulled out a chair, sat down, and began to pour herself a cup of tea.
"And let me tell you, Sister, I have had such difficulty in deciding what to wear! So, I brought several of my gowns with me. We can spend the morning talking it over together. Won't that be fun?"
"Yes, well, perhaps ... later on." Elizabeth suppressed a groan and propped her head in her hands. She loathed conversation at the breakfast table -- everyone knew that -- and here she was, forced to entertain Mary. And to be discussing clothing was even worse! Mary had the most hideous taste imaginable and never took even the most carefully laid hint.
Mr. Rushworth's letter caught her eye; she began to think about him as her sister rattled on. His annual income was reputed to be nearly twelve-thousand pounds. Such an amount made Elizabeth's aching head swim. If he had even half that, he would be quite a catch. Unfortunately, he has no title, she mused, and his appearance reminds me ... Elizabeth bit her lip as she pictured Mr. Rushworth's face with its protuberant pink cheeks and bulbous nose, ... he reminds me of a plump, elegantly-trussed ... pig! As she buttered a piece of toast, she wondered how much money would be enough to enable her to put up with such obvious flaws in a husband.
"At any rate, I shall look very fine, indeed," said Mary, who had talked on without noticing her sister's abstraction. "Isn't it fortunate that I thought to bring my topaz necklace with me? Can you imagine, Charles thought I was overdressed the last time I wore it to the Pooles! But I should think he would be pleased -- and perhaps a little jealous, too -- to see me so beautifully attired tonight!"
Elizabeth sat up and took a bracing swallow of tea. Mary's idle comment had given her an idea. The blatant enthusiasm of Mr. Rushworth might be useful for another purpose -- it might rouse her reluctant cousin to action. Mr. Elliot had been quite pointed in his attentions when he had first come to Bath but it seemed that lately he had come to take her company for granted. No, she decided, I will not immediately repress Mr. Rushworth, no matter how 'boorish' he might prove to be.
But some time later, after the man and his mother had come to call, Elizabeth was no longer so sure about the wisdom of this plan. He was boorish -- and even uglier than she remembered! And if he were not so wealthy, she would think him to be extremely stupid, as well. With a sparkling enthusiasm she did not feel, she answered each of his stammered questions and laughed at every bumbling witticism, until she was weary of the very sight of him!
Meanwhile, Anne was suffering a dilemma of her own, as she stood before a bootseller's window on New Bond Street. Her attention was claimed by a pair of black kid dancing shoes. She had turned away from the window more than once, each time rebuking herself for such a frivolous desire. But here she was again, gazing at them with rapt attention while she did some rather desperate financial calculations.
If only she was to have a plain gown for the Assembly, then there would be no struggle! But to wear such a wonderous dress with her plain, everyday boots smote her pride with a fierceness she did not expect. For once, she longed to have a pair of beautiful dancing slippers like Elizabeth always had. For although she would not dance, it would require much anxious effort to keep her boots well-hidden beneath her skirts.
But the slippers were a good buy, marked down to clear the way for the new spring merchandise. "And black is a very useful colour," Anne murmured, as she opened her reticule and began to hunt for her money purse. It eluded her grasp, so she secured the crooked handle of the flowered umbrella on her arm and dug deeper. Finally she removed the small bag and carefully poured the coins into her palm. If she was very frugal and did not buy another thing for the remainder of the quarter ...
"No. I cannot." Anne's gloved hand closed on the coins and she turned away from the shop. "It is too extravagant." But she had not taken two steps before she was back at the window, gazing at the lovely shoes.
New Bond Street was all but deserted on this misty morning, but Anne was not alone. From a doorway near the corner, a solitary figure watched her with great interest -- a gentleman whose hat had a band of black crepe wound around its crown.
Chapter 3, Part 2
As he made his way down New Bond Street, a smile drifted across William Elliot's face. For directly in his path stood the young woman who had intruded into his thoughts time and again during his brief absence from Bath: his gentle cousin Anne. True, he had spent time fretting over Penelope Clay's schemes and had chuckled over Elizabeth's sparkling pique, but he had thought the most about Anne. And here she was, alone.
How convenient, he mused, and he came to a halt several doors away in order to study her trim figure.
Anne has such delicate features. He smiled some more, as his eyes traced the profile of her face. Indeed, his little cousin was looking all the more desirable each time he saw her. Anne had not the luscious shapeliness of Elizabeth, but there were other features to admire besides her personality. Her ears were small and dainty, the curve of her neck was deliciously appealing, and her lips were beautifully shaped. William smiled more widely as he wondered, would they ever come to welcome his kiss? Yes, it was most pleasant to think about Anne.
As William continued to watch her, it began to dawn on him that a little drama was playing out before his eyes. His cousin was standing in front of a shop, but the looks of longing cast at the widow told him she was not merely sighing over frippery trifles. No, Anne's expression had a tinge of anxiousness which pulled at his heart. He watched her turn away, and then come back for another look.
Such a scene was painful but he was unable to tear his eyes from her, as she was now counting out a out a handful of coins. Mr Elliot's jaw tightened in annoyance. Her peacocky father was the cause of her straitened circumstances and this was the result! Such a lovely young woman deserved everything she desired, and more! If he had the care of her, he would certainly see to that!
Anne stood for some time looking at the meagre amount in her hand. Then her head bowed and her shoulders sagged; William Elliot could feel as well as see her resignation. The battle was over ... and Anne had lost.
But not for long. Swiftly and silently, William closed the distance between them.
"Buy it," he murmured, over her shoulder. "Go ahead."
Anne nearly jumped out of her skin to hear a voice so close by. She turned to see the smiling face of her cousin and began to stammer a greeting. But he did not regard her, his attention was fixed on the window.
"Which of these has caught your fancy, Cousin?" he asked, in a very friendly way.
"Oh ... er ... a pair of slippers." Anne was too shaken by his sudden appearance to dissemble. "But it is nothing; just a foolish, frivolous desire. For a ... a party."
"These?" Mr Elliot pointed. "Mmmm." He gave her a quick, sidelong glance and murmured, "Black is a very practical colour. I should think you could use these on many occasions. You may call such a thing 'frivolous,' but I do not."
"I have considered that, yes," she murmured. "But ..."
"Forgive me, Cousin ... but I believe you have dropped several of your coins just now." With a tiny smile, he pointed at the cobbled walk.
"Why ... how ..." Anne's brows knit together in consternation. "I was most careful! I do not see how I could have ..." Her voice dwindled away as her cousin knelt and then placed two shining guineas in her hand.
"These are not mine, Mr Elliot," she whispered.
"Nor are they mine." He gestured toward the empty street. "If you did not drop them, who did?" He gave an elaborate shrug. "Whoever he was, he does not seem to be concerned about their loss." Under the brim of his hat, his eyes smiled into hers. "Perhaps this is your lucky day."
"Luck, Mr Elliot? I do not believe in 'luck.' "
"The kind intervention of Providence, then," he amended. "But I am certain you must have dropped these, unawares. Could there be a hole in your money purse?"
"Why, no ... but ... I mean, I am certain I did not have so much ..."
"Then shall we go in together? And while you are being fitted you may tell me all the most recent news of your family. For I have been to the Metropolis and back -- and most sorely did I miss the company of my cousins."
And paying no heed to Anne's stammered protests, Mr Elliot very kindly opened the door to the bootseller's and motioned her inside.
It took much of the man's strength to open the heavy door to his father's large horse barn, but he managed it. Once inside, he slowly pushed it closed to shut out the chill March air. He was panting just a little from the exertion but he soon recovered and began to make his way down the row of boxes. He had not the energy for his customary whistling, nevertheless, there was a slight swing in his step. At the last box he stopped.
"Belle?" he called softly. He was rewarded by a whinny, as a horse put her head out the door to inquire. He patted her neck; she nodded her chestnut head and regarded him with large, soft eyes.
"Such a beautiful lady, you are," he murmured as he stroked her. He could scarcely believe the generosity of his brother-in-law. In exchange for board and care he would be allowed to breed this wonderful animal. Within a few years he would have a colt of his own to gentle and train up, something he had always longed to do. His fingers itched for the currycomb, for he wanted to groom Belle himself, but he knew his strength was not equal to the task today. With a sigh, he looked to the end of the barn where the carriages were kept. His father's travelling vehicle was conspicuously absent; his cousin Hayter had it.
"This curst damp weather," he grumbled, as he rubbed Belle's velvety nose affectionately. Truth to tell, he had dearly wanted to be the one to drive Wentworth to Plymouth. Instead, he was stuck here, tied to the house as if he were some kind of milksop-fed mama's boy! At least he had managed to rid himself of Alice's wretched poultices!
But the Cottage was unbearably silent without his wife and young sons. And above all, Charles Musgrove enjoyed the friendly bustle of a cheerfully crowded household.
"It is only when things are ... well ..." He gave a final pat to Belle's shining neck as he thought about how he often fled the house whenever Mary grew too demanding. But she had been gone for some time and he found he missed her company.
Charles walked to the end of the barn and came to a stop beside the gig. He stood looking at it a long while, thinking. His cousin Hayter was due back late this evening. If he took Coney and Rodgers with him ... and if he stayed shut up the carriage for the entire trip, perhaps ... Charles squared his shoulders.
"I'll do it tomorrow ... or Thursday at the latest," he said decisively. He was better now, completely well, in fact! Did not his own mother say so just yesterday? Then she would have nothing to say about it tomorrow! For it was high time his wife and sons were fetched home!
Anne left the shop on the arm of her cousin, scarcely daring to think about what was inside the wrapped package he held: the most darling dancing shoes imaginable! They were made up in deep blue, not black and were marked down to a price she could barely believe!
The shoes had been ordered by the young daughter of an army officer. But he had been called away and they were never delivered. And it seemed that not many women had such small feet, for they had been in the shop a long while. Both the shopkeeper and Mr Elliot had made it plain that Anne would be doing an enormously kind favor if she would please take them off the shopkeeper's hands. And with such persuasion against her, how could she resist?
With a smile, she looked up at her cousin. Mr Elliot might always have a glib answer ready, but she had to admit, he was very good company.
"I am grateful to you for seeing me home today, Mr Elliot. Elizabeth would have been quite put out to see me arrive alone."
"Oh? How so? Why should she disapprove?"
"She thinks walking alone is ... spinterish," Anne confided. William Elliot gave a crack of laughter.
"Spinsterish? I should never think of you as such, dear Cousin!"
"Elizabeth does have some rather odd notions," Anne admitted, with a smile.
"I should say so! And she is fearful that you will never change your name, is that it? And so reflect poorly on her?" William Elliot's smile deepened; he lowered his voice.
"But my dear Anne, you needn't change your name to be blissfully happy! And you needn't remain a spinster, either."
Anne looked at her cousin in surprise. She hardly knew what to make of his remark, for his words had two meanings! And as she walked beside him wondering how to answer, Providence kindly intervened. It began to rain.
"Good lord!" Mr Elliot caught hold of her arm and pulled her to shelter from the sudden downpour. They stood together beneath the awning of a shop, watching the steady stream of drops.
"I do have an umbrella, Mr Elliot," Anne offered, and she felt along her arm for the crooked handle. "It is right he ... Oh dear! I must have left it behind at that shop! Whatever shall I do?"
Alas for Mr Elliot! For this was his reward for his gallant good deed: a wet and weary tramp alone to New Bond Street to retrieve a sweet ruffled umbrella, an item he thought to be downright ugly! But as pleasing his worried cousin was foremost in his mind, he calmly made the best of a bad situation and then quietly saw her back to Camden Place. And after some reflection, William Elliot began to take heart. For he would be joining his cousins at the concert that night, where he would surely have opportunity to speak with Anne.
The day, which had begun brightly in the morning, was ending dark and grim. In the late
afternoon, the wind had kicked up and a steady rain had begun. The windows now rattled as Edward hung his pants and blew out the candles on his wife's dressing table, on the way to his bed. She sat, pretending to be occupied with a book. But her attention to the printed page belied what he knew to be her true state of mind.
He arranged his nightcap and settled himself under the blankets of the bed. As he lay there, he recounted the day's events and reiterated his position and the rightness of it.
When Joshua Junkins had brought Louisa home from an unannounced ramble about the countryside, he had talked to Edward and told him of finding the girl in the company of Pollard Levant. Perhaps Junkins was oversensitive, but he had used the word danger to describe how he understood the circumstance. The man went on to say that the young Mrs Wentworth had been quiet all the way home, and had bolted into the house as soon as the wagon had come to a full stop. Edward was not certain to which event he could attribute the majority of his anger. Was he angry at her for putting herself in harm's way by associating with Levant, though it had been a chance meeting on a public road? Or, was he more peeved at the snub she had dealt his good friend? Shortly after Junkins' departure, the girl had come downstairs to borrow paper for a letter to Frederick and the Rector had chosen that time to speak with her about her behaviour. When he had spoken to Louisa about her leaving the house, he felt that he had been a model of restraint and reason. By her response, perhaps he should have waited until he had cooled a bit.
As he mused, Catherine did not move to put out the lights on her bed table and lay down beside him. She calmly sat, reading while she rested against her pillows propped against the headboard. They had not discussed the exchange between him and Louisa, but his wife would no doubt side with another of her sex. Not wishing to be the author of a possible argument, he turned to face away from her.
She is counting on the silence unnerving me, he thought. He remained quiet. After what felt to be quite a long time, Edward turned back, sat up and asked, "Are you intending to sleep tonight?"
Looking up from the book, she laid it in her lap. "Eventually," she said, and nothing more.
Sitting up, he pulled and punched his pillows so that he might recline as she. He feared their conversation could possibly last far into the night and he wished to be comfortable.
With great precision, Catherine placed the ribbon bookmark between the pages, closed it and placed it on her table. Folding her hands, she and Edward sat quietly, each waiting for the other to speak.
"This is ridiculous, you know."
"I agree. Quite ridiculous." She cocked her head and looked his way. "Then why are we doing this?" she asked.
Edward glanced at her and answered, "I haven't the slightest idea. I did not think that I was harsh or mean with the girl, but ... "
Catherine rested her hand on the sleeve of his nightshirt. "I don't suppose you were, but with her feelings extra Tender. Raw in fact and right now, anything ... inexact, would bring that sort of outburst."
Edward rubbed his face hoping to clear away the scene of which she spoke, but it was not to be. He could clearly see Louisa, first with a quivering lip and then dissolving into tears with each word he spoke. She had run from the study. That was not so bad, it had been her tripping on the stairs going up which had made him feel the most ogrish.
Crossing his arms in renewed exasperation, he said quietly, "All I can hope is that this child is not a girl. I am obviously no good with girls."
Catherine took his arm and wriggled beneath it. "Did you never reprimand Frederick? Did he never show temper?" Awaiting the answer, she settled herself against him.
"Of course I reprimanded him ... some. And he certainly showed temper -- he has a great one you know, but ... "
"Well," Edward said, choosing his words. "He never ran away and cried, even when he was small. He kicked me once, when I first returned and we were still determining who was master of the house, but he never cried!"
Catherine arranged her shawl to cover her back and he took up the covers to do so as well. "Girls are a bit different. Did you explain to her why you were so concerned?"
"I tried, but she began to fall apart before my eyes and then rushed off. Besides, you were the one who went haring off to her room and shut herself in for a good hour. What did she say?"
"We didn't speak about you or the dust up."
He drew back and looked at her. "Nothing? Not one word?"
"A few. Very few." She looked up at him. "Did you think I would smooth over this rough patch for you?"
He leant back into the pillows. "I had my hopes ... which, by your tone are obviously dashed." He rubbed her arm with energy.
"I will do no such thing," she said. "The two of you will have to work out these differences yourselves."
"I suppose you're right. It all seemed so simple when Frederick was here, now ... "
"Now it is no different. It is still the best plan for her." They were quiet.
Edward's curiosity got the better of him and he asked, "If you spoke so little about our exchange, what did the two of you find to talk about for so long?"
"Oh, little, household things. We determined that her room needs new curtains and a coverlet to match. She has snagged a shawl and we will fix it in the morning. Oh!" she exclaimed, rising on her elbow. "Frederick has left money for you -- to replace the bed in the nursery. That will be nice," she said, taking her place once more."
"Yes, it will. And it is only right of him. After all, he is the one who broke it." She giggled and he hushed her. "So what else did you do all day while I was causing young women to weep?"
She giggled again and said, "Beatrice and I were discussing names for the baby. I will be only a few more weeks and they will go more quickly than we know."
"Yes, time has already flown by." Their child would be born soon, it seemed only yesterday that she had come home from a fortnight in town and had told him of their changed circumstances. "So what have you and the good Mrs Junkins decided?"
Catherine spoke quietly, almost reverently. "I am somewhat a traditionalist. I thought it would be nice, and Beatrice agrees, to use our parents names. For example, if it is a girl, we could use some combination of our mother's names."
Edward thought about the combinations possible and immediately saw a problem. "Dear," he kissed her hair, "Rose would be not seem to be a problem, think about your mother's name." He tapped her arm with his finger.
She rose again and looked at him earnestly. "What is wrong with Anne? Anne is simple but elegant. Anne Wentworth would be a beautiful name."
It was clear that Catherine did not see the difficulty. Not a difficulty for them, but for his brother. "While she would be our child and Anne is a lovely name, I think you forget Miss Elliot." He whispered, "Things might be awkward for her uncle."
"Miss Elliot! What has she -- oh Edward! Of course Miss Elliot. I see now. Well, so much for Anne," she said, laying back down. "What of Rose?" she asked.
Now the difficulty was his. "I am not certain that I wish to use her name either."
"Why not? Please do not say that your brother also has a Rose in his past!"
"No," he laughed. Holding her closer, he said seriously, "I loved my mother, truly. She was a beautiful, sweet, gentle woman, but she was -- "
"I know. You needn't say it. We will find another name that we both like. I am sorry. I did not think about the implications of either name. I suppose that our fathers' names -- "
"I will not have the name Peter attached to a son of mine. Never!" His own vehemence surprised him, and he quickly apologized. "I am sorry, I did not mean to snap."
The wind rattled the windows again and they could hear the rain spatter the glass. Catherine rose and blew out the branch of candles on her side. Settling back in his arms, she said hesitantly, "And what of Phillip?"
It hurt the rector that the names of his parents were nothing but pain and anger to him and that to use them would, in his mind, cloud the joy their child would bring the family. Pulling her close, he breathed deeply and said, "Phillip is a perfect name." He was glad for the darkness. "Phillip is a name worthy of a good man such as your father." Wiping the tears with his sleeve, Edward said, " And of his grandson."
Holding the candle high, Louisa made her way downstairs. She had spent most of the evening trying to write a letter to her husband. But, there was no desk in their room and she had ruined all the paper she had borrowed earlier. The household was now abed and quiet, the perfect time to sneak to the Rector's study and write a plaintive missive to Frederick.
As she revived the nearly spent fire left in the hearth, Louisa had thought about her confrontation with Rector Wentworth. He had been unreasonably concerned over her whereabouts the previous afternoon and had scolded her terribly. While he had not said outright, all his words and looks implied a belief that she was foolish, and not to be trusted. Had he not asked that, from this day forward, she stay within the grounds of the Rectory, unless she was escorted? With that thought, she poked a log harder than necessary and it fell, rolling out of the box. Jumping up, she replaced it and set the poker back in it's stand. Sitting back down, she pulled her legs to her chest and watched the fire as she ordered her complaints.
After careful consideration, she rose and went to the desk, took paper and pen and began her letter.
Carefully sealing the flaps, Louisa looked at the thick packet with pride. It was addressed perfectly and contained a thorough catalogue of her grievances with the Rector. Surely the Captain would see that he must either send for her to be with him -- which to Louisa was the most logical choice -- or he would make arrangements for her to return home ... Home. Uppercross. While her living in Shropshire had seemed the most perfect of schemes, with the Rector proving to be unreasonable and outrageous --
"Pardon me, I hope I did not frighten you."
Louisa jumped at the voice and turned to see the Rector peering at her around the door.
"I did knock. I could not sleep," he said, in a low voice. "I thought I might read for a while."
She hurriedly gathered the paper, wax, pen and blotter together, hoping he would not ask what she had been about. Guilt smote her conscience. She had used the man's own materials to accuse him to her husband. "No," she stammered as she turned to face him. "I was finished here and am just going back to my room." She searched for and found the sealed letter and clutched it in her hand, confident that the low firelight would hide it from his view.
Edward stepped into the room and closed the door. "Ah, you built the fire. Good. It is awfully chilly tonight." He studied the hearth for a moment and moved closer to it. "Might I have a word with you ... ?" He seemed to hesitate, as though he did not know what next to say.
Slipping the letter into her pocket, she said, "Certainly." Her tone was deliberately clipped. She wished him to know her displeasure at being treated so shabbily.
"Please, have a seat before the fire and I shall bring us something to drink." He quickly brought them each a glass of sherry. Settling into his chair, he took a drink and made a face. "How do you ladies drink this? It is abominable."
Louisa took a sip and while it was not of the quality that her father would serve, it was passable. Guardedly, she said, "Some ladies drink it very well ... and much of it."
Edward laughed out loud. "That is true! I had an aunt; Aunt Gusta Chestnutt. The woman had a capacity for sherry that was astounding." He finished the glass and set it down on the table between them.
Louisa said nothing.
Leaning back in the chair and folding his hands, Edward stared at the fire and said, "I wish to apologise for our quarrel. I should not have treated you as I did. And I should have explained myself better." He continued to look at the fire.
The admission surprised her. The guilt rose again as she thought about some of the things she had said in her letter to Frederick. Some that now she was beginning to realise were
exaggerations on her part. She took the silence as a chance to study the Rector. The firelight did him no favours. It showed that he certainly did not sleep well. The lines proved that he certainly could profit by a good deal more of it. She noticed again his resemblance to her husband, but that his eyes were more ... more knowing. He suddenly turned and looked at her directly. "I tend to allow my feelings to rule my tongue. I am too headstrong sometimes."
She herself had been described as headstrong, along with many other, some unflattering, descriptions. She suddenly relaxed a little. Louisa could understand this man. Placing the half glass of sherry on the table next to his, she said, "I am sorry too. I may have -- it was wrong of me to be so angry." She took the glass and took a sip of the sherry. "Perhaps you could explain yourself now." Glancing his way, she was surprised that he watched her.
"All right. I think I am better able to make you understand. When we spoke earlier, you said that you were quite used to ranging far and wide around Uppercross. I am sure there was no difficulty in that, as your father's position proceeded you wherever you went. Many owe him their loyalty for various reasons. Be sure that there were many who watched over you, without your even knowing. I can offer you nothing of that sort ... in the way of protection I mean."
Louisa studied his face. She searched her own heart and knew that what he said was true. More than once, she had been the recipient of a pence or two when she lacked or a spare seat in a carriage when she was tired, but far from home. Her father's name afforded her many advantages.
Suddenly a thought came to her. Rector Shirley was more than well liked by his parish and was certainly afforded all the esteem and admiration a man of God could reasonably expect. "But surely you, as a clergyman are not without friends and protection as you called it."
Smiling, the Rector sat quietly for a time. He studied the fire and then began to speak. "I suppose it seems that would be the way of things, And, while a clergyman has a certain social station that affords him some advantages, for the most part, unless men are truly submitted to God, a representative of Him are not thought much of. Certainly not enough to command any sort of consideration."
Louisa understood. "Certainly not men like Pollard Levant." She watched him.
The Rector rubbed the back of his neck as though it suddenly ached. "Yes. Exactly. Men who have no fear of God, have no fear of me." He glanced her way, but never met her eyes. "It is a painful realisation, but I think your husband's rank and station -- though he is miles away -- offer you more safety than I can." He closed his eyes.
Her memories of the afternoon were beginning to change in light of the Rector's explanation. His anger now had a context that she had not grasped before. Louisa could also now understand his attachment to a man such as Mr Junkins. A man who not only respected the Rector's authority, but was his personal intimate. Personally intimate enough, to face down the most powerful man in the district to assure the safety of his friend's sister-in-law.
Her throat ached and her eyes stung. But mostly, the plaintive missive in her pocket mocked and accused her. Crushing it in her hand she said, "Thank you, Rector. Thank you for explaining all this. I took for granted the favour that my maiden name gave me." She leant forward and said softly, "But you should not think so meanly of yourself. I am certain that, like me, there are more around you than you know, who respect and care for you."
Edward gave her a quiet smile. "Yes, I am sure you are correct. None of us is as pathetic as we think, are we? In fact your father was very helpful to me when I was a curate in Monkford. He helped me resolve a dispute with a neighbour's hired man. The fellow broke down a wall and stole some apples from me. It was a trifling matter, but your father intervened with the neighbour -- a good friend of his -- and we came to an amicable settlement." He reached for his glass and finding it empty, set it back down. "No, your father is a good man, never mistake that."
Louisa rose and went to the cabinet and brought the sherry and refilled the Rector's glass. "I had no idea you knew my father, or had ever lived in the area. When was this?" Having poured, she placed the decanter on the table and took her seat.
Without hesitation, the Rector drawled, "Oh, the years '05, '06, and much of '07." He took a drink. "It has always astonished me that when I lived in the area and Frederick came one summer, he was introduced all around the district, though your family doesn't seem to remember, and then, of all things, your brother served on Frederick's ship! The world is small indeed." The Rector took another sip of the sherry.
This bit of news interested Louisa greatly. So much of her husband's life had already involved her family, even before she had known anything of him. Her eyes were bright with curiosity when she asked, "And what summer was this?"
Innocently, he replied, "The year '06. Yes, he was quite a favourite at parties and such. I rode his coattails to more than one social occasion. He was a new commander and newspaper accounts of the battles of San Domingo were still fresh in everyone's minds. I would not be surprised if he had been invited to every house in the district."
"Then he knew the Elliots! That is strange, for Miss Anne never breathed a word about a previous connection. And my sister-in-law, Mary, of all people would have made the most of such a thing! This is strange indeed!"
Edward coughed and slammed the glass down on the table. Louisa jumped up and patted his back as hard as she thought proper. "Are you all right, sir. Should I go and fetch your wife?" She was afraid because of the paleness of his face.
"No!" he cried sharply. "I shall be fine in a moment. Could you bring me some water?"
Louisa obeyed and watched him as he carefully downed the full glass. Handing it to her, he said, "Thank you. I think I will be all right now." He leant back and watched the fire again.
Settling into her seat, Louisa pursued the conversation. "As I said, I am surprised that Mary did not crow at all about knowing Frederick. She certainly made enough of him anywise," she said, thinking about some of her sister-in-law's sillier remarks and longing looks.
"Yes -- well -- as I recall, Miss Mary Elliot was not yet home from school or something such as that -- "
"But there was no hint from Miss Anne," she said. "Though ... "
"Though what?" Edward asked warily.
Louisa did not answer immediately, she was remembering. Then she replied, "I did not think about it at the time, but after he met Miss Anne, we were all walking and he remarked to Etta -- my sister Henrietta -- that Miss Anne was so altered he would not have known her again. I never gave it a thought, until now. Such a remark makes no sense at all if he not previously known her." Louisa looked at the Rector with confusion. "Why would neither of them acknowledge that they were acquainted?"
"Undoubtedly he knew of her from that summer -- knew who she was and was speaking more from the knowledge of rather than acquaintance with her -- as it would be unusual for two people not to acknowledge a past -- friendly -- acquaintance. A-hem. I think -- yes, good heavens, we should be retiring. Look at the time! he exclaimed.
Louisa laughed a little, "Yes, I suppose so. They could not have been hiding their acquaintance, both are too good and honest for that." As she said the words good and honest, the letter came to her mind. She rose and walked to the fire. Kneeling she began to bank it.
"I should do that," Edward said, rising himself.
"No, Rector," she said, taking the letter from her pocket. She waited until he was not looking and tossed it in and poked it deep into the burning coals. "I want to personally make certain that this fire does its work tonight."
There was a small flareup as the wax melted and caught, and then the letter was gone.
It had been the Captain's intention to retire for the night but a sudden burst of energy had caused him to more carefully investigate his new quarters. Poking about the forward cabin he had discovered some things about the previous captain of the Moonshine. The man had been none too tidy about his surroundings or, by the putrid shirt he had found in the wardrobe, his person. The man was prone to reading lurid novels and he liked good whiskey. A bottle of imported double malt whiskey, still under the seal, lay nestled in one of the after cabin lockers. It did not take Frederick long to determine that with the price of the lease of the ship, came the fair use of all materials found aboard. The whiskey included.
Stowing it safely away, he thought about something which Harville had told him the evening before. He was not certain that he should pursue the matter, but had called for Midshipman Martin to be brought to him anywise.
Martin had been with the Laconia since the year '09. He had been brought by his mother that she might receive the five pound bonus and half a year's pay upon his signing on. By chance, Wentworth had been on deck when Martin had been signed. He had watched as the woman had taken the money counted out into her hand. She had held it for a moment, looked at her son, then to another littler one at her feet. Her head had dropped some as she had stowed the money in a dirty purse on her wrist. Touching the bigger boy's cheek for half an instant, she had turned and hurried away. Frederick usually took no notice in such trivial matters as the taking on of a ship's boy, but after such a scene, there had been, and still was, something about Joseph Martin that interested the Captain.
A soft knock at the door let him know that the boy had arrived.
"Come," Frederick said.
A bleary eyed Martin stood before him. The late hour made formality unnecessary and Frederick chose not to say the boy had misbuttoned his jacket. He would be sending the boy back to his hammock after he found out what he needed to know.
"I am sorry to pull you from your bed, Martin."
"Quite -- " the boy's voice cracked. Whether it was due to tiredness or his age, Frederick could not be sure. Embarrassed, the boy began again. "Quite all right, sir. What might you need?" Even as he steadied himself on his tired legs, his devotion to his captain and ship's duty was clear.
The Captain took a seat behind his desk. He hesitated a moment, not certain that he should really pursue the matter before him. "I wanted you to know that I am very pleased with what I find here. Harville has told me that you have been a great help to him in keeping all these bodies and souls together on this hulking block.
Martin looked confused. He was obviously pleased to be commended thus, but to be taken from his bed at such a late hour was strange. "Thank you sir. I have done what I could in assisting Captain Harville. But he is very capable, aside from anything I might have done."
"You are too modest, Martin." Frederick laughed. "If you are to make your way in the Navy, you must take credit when it is due you -- and even at time when it is not." He watched the boy and laughed again. "That is not in you, is it? Good. You may never be First Lord, but you will sleep at night! And how is the good woman who trained you so well?" He had always had an active interest in Martin's family.
Martin brightened at the mentioning of his mother. "She is very well, sir. Married again."
"Yes, you told me. You said he was a good man. Is that still your opinion?"
"Yessir. He keeps working steady. Keeps food on the board so there is no complaining. Mother has said that I might keep some of my pay this time out."
Midshipmen generally had an allowance, entrusted to the ship's captain, while their pay was sent home. Martin's allowance had been meager by any standard and the family had used every groat of his pay to survive. It now looked as if Mr Martin would be coming up in the world, now that his family was being seen to by another.
"Good. Just be certain that you put some aside each quarter. Don't squander it, for that wasteful conduct comes back to haunt you." The Captain chose not to elaborate as to his own wasteful conduct. "Before I send you off, I do need to know something." His decision to pursue the matter was not completely settled in his mind, but a little more information might do so.
"Harville mentioned that an attempt was made to steal the binnacle box from the Laconia."
"Yessir. He and I caught the two thieves. Just little boys really. They would not say what they intended to do with it, but they were making a might effort to carry it off."
"Again, good work in keeping that from happening." Frederick hesitated. "Uh, might you know where it is now? The box, I mean."
"Certainly, sir. It was struck down in the hold. Very far forward as I recall. It is strange that you should ask about that particular thing, sir."
The Captain scowled. "And why is that, Martin?"
Martin had been absently feeling his buttons and was in the process of correcting them. "Well, sir, uh, the carpenter just said today that he was going to have a chance to take a plane to her and sand her out all nice. There has always been an ugly gouge that he has wanted to get at, but there was never a chance." Martin smoothed his jacket just in time to be dismissed.
Frederick was grateful for the late hour and that he was not likely to meet any stray crew. Harville had determined that watch on watch was not necessary and all but the barest watch was on duty at such a late hour. As he staggered his way through the hulking old ship, he held the lantern high and the bottle close to his chest. Despite being well on the road to drunkenness he observed the good work of her bones, but how time and neglect had taken their toll. As he moved further forward, his thoughts turned to the binnacle he was going to examine.
It had been summer in the year '08. Frederick had just been appointed captain of the Laconia and it was their first time out. A short run after an overhaul of her rudder. It was the second day and excitement had kept him from sleeping. At the beginning of the first watch, he had come above. Other than the master's mate at the wheel, he had been alone on the quarter deck.
The night was warm and quiet. Only the occasional thready patch of clouds floated through the moonlight. After greeting the mate, who had not been surprised to see the new captain at such an odd hour, Frederick had been left to himself.
He had pulled the helm's log to himself. It had snagged on a large splinter. After he shaved off the splinter with his clasp knife, he had set the knife aside and begun to read the log with interest. Notes by the duty officers, master and the boson would give him a good idea of the temperament and capabilities of his new love. The Laconia had a reputation for being a clean sailer and good on the bowline, but after just a few pages, the log revealled that when fully loaded, she had a tendency to heel, thus slowing her greatly. He would meet with the Master and together, they would determine how to stow the hold proper and improve her speed.
He was not certain when it occurred, but he suddenly realised that he was no longer reading the log, but using the clasp knife to carve on the top of the binnacle box! He had glanced over to the mate and seen that he was occupied with the watch's officer. Bending closer, he examined his handiwork and saw what he had done. There on the smooth teak top of the binnacle, he had carved a lovely "A".
Since receiving word of his step up to the Laconia, thoughts of Anne Elliot had returned to him with a vengeance. He had gone so far as to sit down and write to her. Each improper letter had been summarily torn up and burnt for good measure. He had chided himself that a woman such as Anne would, by that time, be married and settled. That even his commanding a frigate would mean nothing to the residents and neighbours of Kellynch Hall, who he knew had supplanted him. Above all this, his words at their parting had been angry and ugly. His imprudent words left no room for reconciliation.
The proof of his state of mind was staring him in the face and now, the only question was, how could he rectify the situation?
The binnacle had been replaced recently when the old one had been damaged in a storm. The previous captain had taken a fancy to a wood widely available in Java, where the ship had been stationed and when the opportunity to use it aboard presented itself, the captain had taken it. And so now, the Laconia sported one of the fanciest binnacles in the fleet. This being the case, Wentworth had not wished to gouge out his unconscious creation, but saw little choice. He had done it and by the time they had returned to port, all thoughts of letters and carvings had been put away.
It had taken some time to find the binnacle. Harville had stripped the ship of every item of possible use and all were crushed into various nooks and crannies below deck. It surprised him that his own cabin had not been used for storage.
He finally located the binnacle underneath some lengths of extra sailcloth. Hanging the lantern and pulling the box out where he could see it, he stood and looked carefully at it.
There was nothing remarkable about this piece of ship's furniture. It was still strong and would serve her again after the overhaul, but on this night, it only served as a reminder of his failure.
Pulling up a small keg, he sat. He ran his hand over the top of the binnacle, stopping at the exact place where he had carved the A. Even after six years worth of sun, storms and wear and tear, there was still a faint scar where he had scraped it away.
The scar was smooth, nearly indistinguishable from any of the other expected scratches and nicks. It would seem that only Frederick's prior knowledge of the gouge and the carpenter's native eye for wood made it noticeable at all.
He took a long pull on the whiskey and coughed. He continued to look at the furrow. He touched it occasionally as he thought about his last close encounter with it's cause.
She was crying, he thought. And I am quite certain she was not upset about my shoes. He had spilled wine on himself and had been in the process of mopping it up when he had seen Anne. She had obviously been watching him -- and crying.
After another swig and coughing fit, he muttered, "You are a pig, Freddy. You hurt that poor woman -- oh G-d! That stupid, tripe-laden letter! Opps," he sniggered. The last had been said louder than he had intended. He giggled. "Quiet, boy. You'll have the whole crew in here with you, and then they'll all know you for the supercilious, dishloyal swine you truly are." Another swig. "My apologies to pigs -- poor muddy little beasties. At least I am tidy."
His head hit the top of the binnacle as the bottle fell to the floor. Neither bothered him as he pulled a little pile of sailcloth under his head. While the whiskey puddled under his left foot, he made himself comfortable and muttered some more.
"She is such a sweet girl. And very pretty -- why did I do such a thing? Perhaps she will forgive me one day ... mmm, do you think you could my girl?"
But the young woman in question had no thought that night about past hurts and regrets. Quite the contrary, she was very much occupied with the present. The early evening found her in her tiny bedchamber, busy with the delicate task of fastening the clasp on a string of agate beads. The necklace was not as striking as the Stevenson diamond set worn by her sister, but it was quite pretty and it perfectly matched her taupe evening gown. She raised her head. Her door was ajar; she had heard her sister call her name.
"Yes, Elizabeth," she answered cheerfully. "I've just finished. I shall join you downstairs right away!"
With great eagerness, Anne gathered up her things. Tonight's concert promised to be a good one; the thought of the wondrous music she was about to hear made her spirits soar. Before leaving the room, she paused at the dressing table and gazed at her reflection one last time. Elise had paid special attention to her hair and it looked very well.
And I feel very well! Anne smiled at the image in the mirror; to feel this way was lovely! Then she recollected the time, gave a happy sigh, and blew out the candles.
Continued in Part 3
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