Love Suffers Long and Is Kind, Volume IV
Chapter 3, Part 3
"You mean to say that all of it is in Italian?" Sir Cameron Greene looked up from the concert bill in disgust. "Really, Paddy," he grumbled. "I mean, when you told me you wanted to see more of Society, I had no idea you meant to drag me to such high-brow nonsense!"
"What's wrong with it?" his companion smiled.
"Because there's nothing but old women here, that's what! A complete waste of my time!"
"But not of mine," came the bemused reply. "Cam, my friend, the pot cannot call the kettle black! We are old!"
"Must you remind me?" Sir Cameron muttered. "But I haven't a taste for withered old crones ... and never will!" He gestured expansively and lowered his voice further. "Look around. Bags, double chins, and crow's feet wherever you look!"
"Which is why I arrived early, my dear. To have a look ... around," 'Paddy' grinned. His eyes roved the interior of the Octagon Room, but the one he was seeking had not yet come. He had gambled that she would; now he could only wait and see if his hunch would pay off.
With more good-natured grumbling, Sir Cameron again applied himself to the concert bill. After a few moments he appeared to have a change of heart, for he gave his friend a meaningful nudge.
"Look here, Paddy! One of the singers for the first act is Miss Eleanora Stile. She's a fetching bit of jolly fun! Met her at Gabberstone's dinner two weeks ago. Good dancer, too. Mmmm-hmmm."
His friend gave him a knowing look. "I'm afraid you're on the outs there, Cam. From what I hear, Farley's already taken her under his, er, wing."
"Farley?" Sir Cameron's voice showed his contempt for the urbane leader of Bath society. "Another? And so close to home? Dashed risky, if you ask me," he grumbled. "Used to cart 'em off to Venice, or wherever that curst villa of his is. Or kept 'em in the City. Never here."
"There's no fool like an old fool, they say."
"There you go, spouting on about age again! What is it with you tonight? Besides," Sir Cameron added with a rueful grin, "Sir Clifton Farley's my idea of an old man! Must be the age of that chit Eleanora's grandpapa! Eh, Paddy?"
But Sir Cameron never got an intelligible answer, for his friend's attention was arrested by a knot of young women who were taking up a position in front of the fire.
"Turkey red," he murmured to no one in particular. "I despise it on an Army man, but she looks very well in Turkey red, as well as the green."
Miss Elliot would have been affronted to hear her gown so called, though 'Turkey red' was all the rage. Turkeys were an ugly bird and the country by that name was a heathen, uncivilized place. Elizabeth preferred the designation 'carnelian.'
And although she kept a smile on her face as she stood beside Mrs Clay, her eyes were bright with anger. For instead of arriving early as planned, her family had been forced to return to the White Hart to search for Mary's ticket, which had unaccountably been left behind. It had eventually been located, but Sir Walter's distress over the lost time had been so complete that Mary was forced to run to her room and back. Now she looked rumpled and windblown -- and her nose and cheeks were an unfortunate shade of pink!
Elizabeth sighed in annoyance and directed her attention to another part of the room. Indeed, she was quite put out with all of the members of her party! Her father was not covering his anxiousness at all well; Anne was pretty and smiling, but had no conversation; and as for Penelope Clay, she had conversation enough, but the neckline of her new evening frock was revealing in the extreme!
Poor Miss Elliot. Of all the times to have a nagging headache, this was the worst! But the evening would not be a complete loss; Mr Elliot and Colonel Wallis were to attend and it was Elizabeth's plan was to manoeuvre a seat for herself between the two. The most perfect situation would to be to find chairs quite near to the Vicountess; this was Elizabeth's second objective for the evening.
But all at once, the evening took a different turn. A voice spoke her name, a wretchedly familiar voice, whose owner had taken up so much of Elizabeth's afternoon. With a sinking heart, she managed to turn and greet him politely. The young man never noticed her reluctance, in fact, he was delighted by her discomposure.
"Surprise! Surprise! Yes, it is ME! Ha-ha! I have surprised you, Miss Elliot! I have made you jump!" Augustus Rushworth's eyes widened in sudden concern and he patted Elizabeth's arm. "Er, I hope you are all right. I didn't frighten you too badly, did I, Miss Elliot?"
"Er, no," she said faintly. "I thought all the tickets were gone, Mr Rushworth."
"I have managed without one!" he crowed. "What luck that your sister mentioned this concert today -- and your fine cousins -- for Mama knew just what to do!" And without any encouragement on the part of his listener, for he needed none, Mr Rushworth proudly detailed the scheme which had won him certain admission this night.
While Elizabeth was thus occupied, Anne stood warming herself before the fire; in her haste she had neglected to bring a proper cloak. The evening had begun disastrously, but now things were looking better; she was greatly relieved to see it. Fortunately for her father, Lady Dalrymple had not yet arrived, so none of his plans were spoiled by the delay. Anne knew it was his object to be first with her, to 'see and be seen' in her company.
Anne had no such ambitions; it was with complete disinterest that she surveyed the gathering crowd. After all, apart from the members of her own party, she knew no one. She would content herself with the music; that would be pleasure enough. But what was this? Here and there among the crowd Anne caught a glimpse of the deep blue and bright gold of a naval uniform. Her heart gave an unaccountable bump.
This is ridiculous, she scolded herself. Frederick is not here, and even if he was, it would be nothing! Nevertheless, she carefully examined every man of the Navy in the room.
Presently the entrance door opened and a general murmur spread among the assembly. Lady Dalrymple, a principal patronesses of the event, had arrived with her daughter. Mr Elliot and Colonel Wallis followed just behind.
This was the moment for which Sir Walter had been waiting so anxiously. With many a charming smile and nod, he pushed his way through the throng of well-wishers and offered his arm to the Vicountess. His happiness was complete when that noble lady laid her hand on his arm and allowed him to lead her toward the Concert Room. But they had not progressed far when the Vicountess stopped and called out to a gentleman at the edge of the crowd.
"Mr Rushworth! My dear boy! Please do join us! Right here, sir!" And to Sir Walter's consternation, she generously held out her free hand to him. "I may as easily be escorted by two handsome gentleman as well as one. If you please, my dear."
But there was more. As the threesome moved forward, she gave Mr Rushworth the friendliest of smiles and said, "I was quite overcome this afternoon when Lady Farley told me of your generous gift! So unexpected! Such a delightful surprise! But how very like the son of your dear mama. Has she never told you that we are acquainted these many years?"
Lady Dalrymple continued in this vein until they reached the door; only then did she acknowledge Sir Walter's presence. "It is due to the munificence of our dear Mr Rushworth that this company will be able to continue with the season as planned! You cannot imagine our relief, Sir Walter. For as you know, not all among the gentry are mindful of their noble duty to patronise the arts!"
Poor Sir Walter could do nothing but stammer and flush as he led his noble cousin to her seat.
Directly behind came his eldest daughter, arm-in-arm with the honorable Miss Carteret. Elizabeth could not help but be flattered by this distinction, though it interfered with her plans to direct the seating. Within a short space, she learned more than she ever wished to know about the present condition of poor, dear Mr Turner, now confined to his bed with a fever. Elizabeth's murmured words of sympathy only encouraged her distraught relative, who was sincerely grateful to find such an attentive listener.
Thus the party entered the Concert Room and each found a seat as he pleased, more or less. Lady Dalrymple was flanked by Sir Walter and Mr Rushworth; Elizabeth found herself placed between that generously-sized gentleman and Miss Carteret. Mary was seated beside her and the gallant Colonel Wallis. And Penelope Clay had the felicity to find an excellent position on the other side of Sir Walter. By the time Anne and Mr Elliot arrived, there was no more room; they found chairs in the row ahead, a little apart from the rest of the group.
Anne was not displeased with this arrangement, for Mr Elliot was proving to be an attentive companion. It seemed that he had a keen interest in music, for he asked many questions. But as the orchestra began to assemble, Anne chanced to glance behind and found she was staring at the back of a naval officer's uniform. Again her heart skipped a beat. The gentleman was standing in the center aisle, apparently he had just finished greeting Lady Dalrymple and her father. He straightened, turned, and in a moment Anne found herself looking into the pleasant, familiar face of Captain James Benwick.
Here was a surprise, indeed! Anne returned his bashful smile with one of her own. There was no time to do more, as her cousin reclaimed her attention with another question.
A few moments later, though, a polite cough caught Anne's ear. Captain Benwick was now beside her chair, asking if he might claim the vacant seat.
"Surely, sir. You are most welcome," she answered, as a blush crept onto her cheeks. Anne willed it down and turned again to answer another of Mr Elliot's questions. Why was she suddenly so jumpy and nervous? She forced herself to speak calmly.
"Yes, Cousin, I believe the piece you are speaking of could be called an aria, for it is performed by one vocalist only." Anne leaned over to better see the bill he held. "And that song has a particularly beautiful melody, if I remember aright."
The crowd settled and all conversation ceased as the musicians began to tune their instruments. Anne stole a glance at Captain Benwick. He was looking through his concert bill, though not in the offhand way her cousin had. He was much more attentive; could it be that he was reading the Italian written there?
So far, so good, James thought, as he leaned back in his chair and took in the brilliance of the room. This was what his brother Ben would call a 'slap-up evening with the Swells.' True, there were a few flaws to the occasion -- he would categorise Anne's annoyingly glib cousin as such -- but overall, things had gone quite well. He was actually sitting beside her; she had smiled at him. That was something, at least. Do not despise the small victories, he reminded himself. And above all, keep your foot out of your mouth, Benwick!
And so the first act progressed. Sometime near the end of it, James allowed his concert bill to slide from his lap. As he bent to retrieve it, he cast a quick, appraising glance at William Elliot. The man was impeccably dressed, as always, and had a pleasant expression on his face, but James noticed that his eyes were a trifle glazed as he listened to the music. Could it be that he did not understand the words?
James bit back a chuckle. Very well did he comprehend Italian, though the sort of expressions he had been exposed to in the Mediterranean would certainly have no place here! He directed his attention to the soloist.
"Ti adoro, angelo mio," the slender, dark-haired tenor sang, with dramatic flourish. "Gettero petali di rosa ai tuoi piedi!" James raised an eyebrow at the overstatement, so typical in an Italian love song, and stole a look at the young woman beside him. What would Anne say if he told her such a ridiculous thing? 'I adore you, my angel. I shall toss rose petals at your feet'!
She'd either laugh or recoil in horror, poor girl, he smiled sadly, and more probably the latter than the former! Not that I would blame her! But dearly did James wish to make his love known, all the same. And if he was given an opportunity to tell her, and if such sentiments would be pleasing to her, he knew he would gladly use such grandiose terminology. If ...
As the song ended, James took a deep breath and forced himself to think rationally. Of course, this was not the time or place to say anything of that sort to Anne. In fact, there was no opportunity to converse at all, save during the interval between each song -- and these pauses were invariably monopolised by the loquacious cousin, as was the case now. James silently studied his bill, but listened to every word which was said. Apparently Anne had a working knowledge of Italian, for she was now translating the verses of the final song in the first act, which was to come next.
James turned the page; he thought he'd have a look to see how Anne did. Per Favori, Amore Mio was the title and there followed an explanatory notation: this was a regional love-song of the countryside. James raised his eyebrows as he read the words to the first verse. He blinked and read it again. Then the second and the third verses came under his scrutiny. He stole a look around the room at the polite and smiling faces of the unsuspecting audience. James bit his lip and with monumental effort swallowed down a boisterous burst of laughter. For this was beyond anything!
"This is nearly the sense, or rather the meaning of the words," Anne was now saying to her cousin, "for certainly the sense of an Italian love-song must not be talked of ..."
You certainly have that right, James agreed, as he struggled to keep his shoulders from shaking. Although, I do not call such sentiments 'love,' exactly ...
"... but it is as nearly the meaning as I can give; for I do not pretend to understand the language. I am a very poor Italian scholar."
For which I thank God! James interjected.
"Yes, yes, I see you are. I see you know nothing of the matter," Mr Elliot replied, dryly. "You have only knowledge enough of the language to translate at sight these inverted, transposed, curtailed Italian lines, into clear, comprehensible, elegant English." He lowered his voice and leaned closer to her. "You need not say anything more of your ignorance. Here is complete proof."
Anne looked away, obviously embarrassed. "I will not oppose such kind politeness; but I should be sorry to be examined by a real proficient, er ..."
Quite unwillingly, she turned to look at Captain Benwick, suspicion in her eyes. Quite clearly they asked the question, You aren't, are you?
Captain Benwick's attention remained stoically fixed on the concert bill. But for a brief moment, his eyes peeked at her over the top of its pages. Anne gasped; they were sparkling outrageously. Was he laughing? At her translation? Or, if not that, at ... what?
"A very credible translation, Miss Anne," he muttered, with downcast eyes. "A-hem! I could not have done so well, myself."
Anne turned to study her concert bill again, as the first notes of the song filled the room. Why had he looked at her so?
"Is he always this grumpy?" Mr Elliot whispered, in an attempt to regain her attention. "Such a fellow, to be talking during the performance! But, as I was saying, I had not the pleasure of visiting in Camden Place so long without knowing something of Miss An..."
"Mr Elliot, please. You interrupt Miss Stile," was all the answer he received from Anne.
What a picture these three presented, seated side by side as they were. William Elliot quickly recovered his composure and was all appreciation for the voice and fine figure of the female vocalist. Anne held her eyes closed; she was lost in the beautiful melody and skilled performance of the musicians. And James Benwick? He sat with his arms crossed tightly across his chest, his face set like flint. No one noticed him flinch from time to time as the soloist mispronounced another of the very vulgar, very colloquial expressions with which the song was laced!
Meanwhile, in the row behind, Lady Dalrymple had spent her time most agreeably, conversing with Mr Rushworth during the interval between each piece. Eventually, Miss Carteret decided she wanted a share of it and compelled Elizabeth to exchange seats, which meant that Elizabeth ended up being thrown together with Mary for the second half of the act. Elizabeth liked this conversation even less, for the only thing Mary could think to speak about with a man like Colonel Wallis was guns. She did nothing more than repeat her husband's off-hand comments about this or that one, but Colonel Wallis was delighted and carried the whole of the conversation himself. And so Miss Elliot was trapped, ever smiling, but thoroughly bored.
It was not long before she determined that a change was necessary, and at the close of the first act she politely excused herself. She had caught snatches of Anne's conversation with Mr Elliot and had come up with a plan. It took some doing to execute it, but eventually she made her way over to her cousin and younger sister.
"Anne," said she, "I have just spoken with Father and he would like you to give the meaning of the last song to Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret. They are quite eager to hear it; they had no idea you were conversant in Italian or they would have asked you before, I daresay. And," she added kindly, "should you wish to exchange your seat for mine, I shall be happy to give it up."
As Anne moved off, Elizabeth gracefully lowered herself into the vacant chair beside Mr Elliot. She did not notice James Benwick, now separated from her cousin on the other side by an empty chair.
"Good evening, Mr Elliot." She greeted him with her prettiest smile. "My, there is such a crush of people tonight! I do believe we have not spoken two words to one another this entire time." She lowered her lashes coyly. "I trust I do not intrude?"
Not unnaturally, Mr Elliot hastened to voice his delight at her company, and soon the pair were conversing pleasantly. Elizabeth took great pains to please, though she could not resist the temptation to teaze him now and again.
"Now do be honest, dear Cousin," Elizabeth said, as she toyed with her diamond bracelet. "It was you who set Mr Rushworth onto our trail, as a suitor for Anne! Do confess."
James Benwick scarcely dared to breathe; he sank lower into his chair, hoping to make himself as unobtrusive as possible.
"My dear," Mr Elliot answered smoothly, "as I have said before, now that the man has seen you, he could never be content to court Anne. Indeed, I do believe it is the same with every man you meet!"
More conversation followed and Captain Benwick frowned at his concert bill as he listened to it. As glib and gallant as the man had been toward Anne, he was now similarly so toward her sister. What sort of game was Elliot playing with these two?
Anne soon returned and the three cousins decided to go with the others in search of tea. Reluctantly, Captain Benwick stayed behind. Anne had left her shawl on the seat of her chair, so he knew she would be returning to sit beside him for the second act; that at least was something to hope for. In such a crowd, he knew his chances for talking to her would be nonexistent, anyway. He decided to wait it out.
Presently the interval was completed and Anne and Mr Elliot came back to their seats. The others of their party returned and the room began to fill. Elizabeth was one of the last to file into the Concert Room; she was hoping to find that another seat had become available, as she had no desire to take her place beside Mary.
As she waited for a pair of stout dowagers to move out of her path, Elizabeth chanced to glance down at her feet. She gasped at what she saw. One of the beaded bangles on her red kid shoes was missing! How could that be?
Elizabeth quickly stepped out of the room and made her way to a chair at the end of a deserted corridor. The area was dimly lit, but she could clearly see that the bangle was gone. Elizabeth closed her eyes with a groan. What a truly horrid evening this was turning out to be! Those elegant, exquisite ornaments, which so perfectly matched the beadwork of her gown! So much careful planning had gone into the design of them, and now ...
Well, there is nothing to be done, she decided, and kneeling down, she took a firm hold of the remaining one. She simply could not countenance walking about with unmatched shoes! Summoning her strength, Elizabeth set her teeth and pulled. But this bangle was as stubborn as the other was wayward, and it remained firmly attached. Elizabeth gave a snort of annoyance and pulled harder, but to no avail.
"Pardon me, but perhaps this may be of some help?"
A man's hand held out the handle of a small, silver clasp knife to her. Elizabeth pursed her lips but did not raise her eyes. Mr Elliot would show up at such a humiliating moment! Still, he had noticed her absence and had sought her out. And as they had recently been speaking about suitors, perhaps this was a very good sign.
"Thank you, Cousin, it would," she replied. And with a single swipe, the blade cleanly severed the ornament from her shoe. Elizabeth examined the small knife thoughtfully.
"How very convenient it must be to carry something like this about one's person. For a knife has many uses, does it not? As for me, I must rely on more womanly weapons," she remarked dryly. "When I have need, I must use something else -- such as a hat pin -- to blind an annoying suitor! If I am wearing a hat at the time, which one usually isn't when one has need of a weapon."
Her companion gave a rich chuckle. "Then keep it, I beg you. It would be my pleasure to know that you are armed and ready for battle ... when you have need of a weapon."
Elizabeth's face flamed. This was not her cousin's inane laugh! And this was not his soft and slender hand, either; this man's hand was broad and strong. The sleeve of his coat was deep blue, with gold lace. And whoever this was had dropped to one knee beside her!
Elizabeth's eyes flew to the man's face. In the dim light, she could see the white flash of a brilliant smile beneath a generous brown moustache. His hair was wavy and brown and beneath heavy brows his eyes glittered. Elizabeth was stunned.
"You ... you are not my cous ... my ... cousin!"
The man stood and kindly assisted her to rise. "We've not met formally, I know. Would you permit an introduction? I am Admiral Patr ..."
The sound of an opening door and brisk footsteps caused both to look up.
"Elizabeth! Daughter!" Sir Walter spoke in a penetrating hiss. "The second act has begun! Come at once!" He motioned urgently.
"I ... er ... my father," Elizabeth said lamely, and handed the Admiral his knife. "Thank you," she whispered. And without a backward glance, she followed Sir Walter into the Concert Room.
Patrick McGillvary stood in the deserted corridor, staring at the door the pair had used. "Elizabeth," he repeated, to no one in particular. "Quite a perfect name. And a wit! Who would have guessed?" Then his pleasant smile hardened.
And the father! Such a look from him! "As if I was common dirt, and he, the Queen of Sheba," he muttered angrily. Admiral Patrick McGillvary, who had lately inherited his father's estate and numerous properties, who was now The McGillvary of Bath, was completely unused to such treatment. He had no idea who this unknown popinjay was, but he intended to find out.
Almost at once, his anger disappeared and a look of amusement crept back into his eyes. The Navy had been unable to curb his impusliveness completely, but well had McGillvary learned the value of patience and timing where delicate manoeuvres were concerned. For here was a chase indeed, in the form of the lovely, elusive Elizabeth; but she was not to be pursued and won in a day. He would watch and wait ... and when the time was right, perhaps he would snatch this prize for himself.
"Shove off," ordered Captain Harville, his voice made nearly a whisper by the patchy morning fog. The jolly boat glided smoothly from the dock and rose slightly on the oarsmen's first pull. The occupants had an excellent prospect from which to watch the ships come alive on this cold, damp morning. Harville drew his boat cloak close and said to the other passenger, "It will not be long now. The Captain will be wonderfully surprised to have you back, I am sure."
John Michaelson nodded, but said nothing in return. The sound of the oars was soft in comparison with the other noise filling familiar harbour of Plymouth. He clutched his duckcloth sack close to him as he pondered his good fortune.
The morning before, at this very time, he had been awakened to the dissonant sounds and rancid smells of the workhouse. However, this morning he had awakened in a cosy cot, not a pile of mildewed straw. He had also awakened to clean sheets, clean clothes and gratefully, a clean person. It amazed him that in one day, everything in his world was changed. Michaelson was not certain to what lengths Harville had gone to find him, but he was extraordinarily grateful that he had been successful in his attempt.
Harville pulled off his gloves as they entered the Captain's small day cabin. "She is not, even now, much to behold, but compared with her condition when we first came aboard, the old dear is a palace." Turning to the rack as he unbuttoned his cloak, he continued, "Stow your bag on one of the stern lockers until we get you a berth." He swung off the cape and hung it. Straightening his coat, he noticed the door to the Captain's sleeping cabin stood open. He pushed it further and looked in. "He is not here," Harville said to Michaelson.
Michaelson joined him and looked about the room. As the cot had not been used for sleep, he suggested, "Perhaps the Captain has gone ashore already."
Harville scowled. "I doubt it. The coxswain would have said something when I met him at the dock. The watch officer would have taken care to report the captain's absence. No," the First said, making for the door, "he is aboard. Somewhere. Perhaps in the tops, he has been known to go aloft to watch the weather."
"If I might say, sir," Michaelson suggested, "the officer on duty would have made you aware, don't you think? Besides, if he were aloft, I believe he'd'a called out to you. I think he might be below." For a man of his rank, Captain Wentworth owned few proclivities. Yet with this disappearance, Michaelson wondered if he had not returned to one that had been put aside long ago.
It took Harville no time to see the sense in what the man said, and head down into the rabbit warren that comprised the lower decks. Michaelson followed the Captain and they began the search
As the steward inspected the inferior officers' quarters, he heard the First's voice. "Well, this is a fine thing," muttered Harville. Michaelson came up behind him and looked to see of what he spoke.
It was hard to make out anything in the dark nook. Even with the lantern Harville held high, it was difficult to sort the jumble of goods that crammed the small room. Eventually, Michaelson's eyes could make out the sailcloth-covered form of Captain Wentworth. He was sleeping, draped elegantly over what looked to be an old binnacle box.* By the looks of the stained wood and bottle at his feet, he had come down to the hold to have a private drink.
Shaking Frederick's shoulder, Harville called his name. This roused him, and when he was sensible, they got him upright and to his cabin.
After bringing him to the upper deck, Harville said, "I had only intended to bring you over and sign you up, I had not figured on your having to begin your duties so soon." The Captain shifted Frederick over to the steward.
Michaelson continued to the sleeping cabin and called softly, "Quite all right, sir. I know my duty from here. I'll sign them papers later, when you return." He set the Captain on a locker, leant him into a corner to steady him, and returned to Harville. "Thank you and your fine wife for all that you did, Captain. I can manage from here, and there is really no need that we tell him anything. He'll remember enough on his own to be a little mortified."
Harville took his cloak and hat from the pegs. "You are a good man, Michaelson, I see why he wished you back. I will return at four bells," indicating the room and its occupant, he said, "I am to breakfast with him."
"All will be ready, sir -- including the Captain."
Returning to the sleeping cabin, Michaelson again roused Wentworth, prepared him for bed and got him placed in his hammock. Accomplishing that, he set about to find the cook and inspect the Captain's larder to see what he might fadge up for a respectable breakfast.
Though he was not familiar with the ship, the familiarness of the duties gave Michaelson a feeling of safety. He, like many sailors, when not sworn to a captain and a ship, was adrift in the world. This being the case, in the future, no matter how much he might grumble about his tiresome duties, limited circumstances or unexalted position in life, he was grateful to be back safe in this simple and constant, wooden world.**
With his eyes still closed, Frederick took a deep and restorative drink from a wonderfully strong mug of coffee. Setting it gently upon the table, he opened his eyes to gaze upon the well-laid breakfast and took heartfelt comfort in his changing fortunes.
Since he had left the exacting care of his brother's housekeeper, Mrs. Graham, and the less than exacting, but lovingly bestowed care of his wife, he had called upon the hand of Providence to send him a steward who could approximate the skill of his last -- Michaelson.
With the Laconia torn to pieces, over the past few days, larger issues had occupied his mind than assembling his personal staff. This being case, he had yet to be frustrated in a search, but was quickly growing weary of Pym's best efforts. To awaken after such an indulgent night of sloppy sentimentality and find this meager, but practical desire realised, made him wonder that the ill winds of Plymouth were shifting to another direction.
"Your eggs, sir."
"Thank you, Michaelson. They look to be perfect."
Yes, the winds were shifting and the man's appearance was truly magical. Not just a competent approximation of a steward, but the man himself! With no effort on the Captain's part -- for the man had simply appeared in his cabin that morning. To the best of his recollection, Frederick had been in the hold when a bottle of whiskey got the better of him. Upon waking, he had found himself undressed, in his hanging cot with the blankets securely tucked about him.
Knowing he had been in no condition to perform such a task, but having a vague notion of Harville being involved, he had called for Pym to give him the explanation. Receiving no answer, the Captain had struggled through the exquisite pain of sitting up, and with a bit of difficulty, disengaged himself from his berth. The pain decreased markedly after he stood for a moment and brought his vision under his own control. Accomplishing that, Frederick had tottered into the day room.
At first glance, he had thought the bright morning sun that streamed through the stern gallery windows was playing him a trick. The table was fully laid for a sumptuous breakfast. From the pots and platters, the glorious scent of coffee and sausages vigourously competed for his attention. For a man recovering from one tot too many, he had a remarkable hunger. If the table were not marvel enough, in walked the agent responsible -- Seaman John Michaelson.
After the longed for steward was properly greeted by the Captain, he had tried to extract an explanation of Michaelson's recent whereabouts and how he came to be aboard the Moonshine. The man's reluctance to tell of his latest activities and reason for his unexpected return to the King's service was enigmatical, but not problematic enough to get him put ashore.
"I'm sorry, Capt'n. I was in the galley, settin' the cook straight. There won't be another platter of that second-rate beefsteak come to this table. You have my guaranty on that." Michaelson busied himself pouring coffee and filling the first plate. He stopped and looked at the Captain. "I am sure, sir," he said softly, "that you would like to dress before sitting down. Number two coat and breeches, sir?" Before receiving an answer, the steward moved towards the sleeping cabin.
Glancing down at his bare legs and feet, Frederick murmured, "Uh, yes, Michaelson. I do not think we will be receiving many guests today." Following to his cabin, the Captain smiled a satisfied smile and silently said a prayer of thanks.
While in Plymouth, the Captain thanked Providence for the return of his steward, in Shropshire, the young Mrs. Wentworth was experiencing a domestic 'situation' of quite a different nature.
The elder Mrs. Wentworth was a bed. While she pled a little cold to her husband, it was exhaustion that was the true culprit. She had been awakened often during the night with twinges and spasms and cramps, which caused distress, discomfort and anxiety enough to keep the lady to her bed. Yet in doing so, it left the house unsupervised.
"Do you smell something burning, Mr Junkins?" Beatrice asked as they approached the back door of the Rectory. They had come bearing another dozen eggs for the Rector's table. It was Mrs. Junkins opinion that Catherine Wentworth's color had not been good when they had called Monday, and so, the eggs made a wonderfully useful pretext.
"Yes. I think it is ... bread of some sort. However, there is something else with it, I believe." They looked at one another, puzzled and not a little concerned. Listening for a moment and hearing activity, Mr Junkins rapped three times on the door and awaited an answer.
"Come!" shouted a voice on the other side.
Upon entering, a thick cloud of smoke greeted the Junkins, along with the frantic flapping of a cloth, as Louisa tried to put out the flames of something burning on the floor.
"Mr Junkins," Mrs. Junkins directed, "some water please, while I attend the toast."
After the fire was extinguished and the blackened toast thrown outside, a shamed Louisa took a seat at the table and began to sniffle.
Joshua, embarrassed, knelt to gather the charred remains of a burnt apron. This left any talking to his wife. Mrs. Junkins turned her attention to the young woman. "What was going on here? Where is everyone?"
"The Rector is on his calls," Louisa gulped, and Catherine is abed again. I was trying to make her some toast and tea. I -- I -- was distracted. I was using the apron to open the hot oven and a corner somehow caught fire and then the bread began to burn ... "
"Where is Mrs. Graham? Surely you could have waited until she returned to make the toast!" cried Beatrice as she unfastened her bonnet strings.
Joshua stood and went to his wife's side. He whispered in her ear.
"Yes, I shall go see to her." Removing the hat as she turned to Louisa, she said, "Then I will return and help you prepare the tea."
Mrs. Junkins took the back stairs to see to the Rector's wife while Joshua ordered the china on the tray. "I am much better with tea than my wife," he said offhandedly.
"Catherine? Catherine are you all right?" Mrs. Junkins called. "There was a little difficulty down in the kitchen, but things are well in hand now," she said, hurrying down the hall.
"Beatrice? What are you doing here?" Mrs. Wentworth exclaimed as she came out her door. "I was asleep," she said, struggling with to right a thick shawl about her shoulders. "I awoke to smell smoke and was so frightened ..." She began to move down the hall towards the kitchen.
"Ah, ah. Back to your bed," Beatrice said, turning her friend back to the bedroom. "Everything is quite well now. We shall have tea for you in a trice." She helped Catherine back into the bed and saw her covered properly. "Your sister-in-law was endeavouring to make you tea and toast. The results were not quite what she expected I am afraid." The woman raised a brow.
Catherine sighed in relief. "Thank heavens it was nothing more serious." She closed her eyes for a moment and ordered herself. "It was really a sweet thought, but I do not think the creature as the slightest notion of anything domestic. So it was the toast." Beatrice nodded. "Graham will be in a state. She is at the market I imagine. She was to go after breakfast." Catherine smoothed the blankets. "She is trying -- Louisa I mean."
"Yes," said Mrs. Junkins. She unbuttoned her gloves and removed them along with her cloak. "And were we not all young once? She also burnt a rather attractive apron, I am afraid." Patting Catherine on the shoulder, she said with a chuckle, "I will see how the two are fairing."
"Two?" Catherine said. "Is Mary with you?"
"No, Mr Junkins, of course. You know that Arthur will not drive for me. I think he does not like my accent." Looking at her friend, she said quietly, "I know she is uncomfortable with him. He said as much about bringing her home Monday. She must learn somehow."
Catherine began to speak, but closed her mouth.
"He understands everyone's discomfit. He will do what he can to make it easier."
Catherine smiled. "I know. I just feel a bit responsible for her. Still, she is an adult -- quite old enough to play with fire, evidently." She pursed her lips as she looked at Beatrice.
Beatrice laughed aloud. "She certainly is, my friend. I shall return in a moment."
Louisa had not understood a word the man had said to her, but watched as he set the tray for the tea perfectly. She was struck by his hands and how rough they were, but how gently they handled the delicate china.
"Tea is the proof of civilization, I think," he said, glancing at Louisa. "In my reading, I have found that the Chinese have ceremonies dedicated to the preparing and the serving of tea. And just as we, they have particular pieces for particular occasions." He finished measuring the tea and pouring the hot water in the pot. "We seem to have much in common with them, do you not think? I would like to go to China one day." He replaced the lid and placed the kettle back on the fire. "Now we wait." He too took a seat at the table.
She had still understood nothing of what Mr Junkins had said. Though she was certain, by his tone, that there had been no rebuke pointed at her. For this she was grateful, as it was humiliation enough to be found incompetent at such a simple task -- and found so by people as good as strangers, at that. "Thank you for making the tea. Shall I try to make the toast, or should I wait for your wife?" She was not certain from where the courage had come to ask the simple question, but it seemed right to put her trust in this man. After all, he had more than proven himself a friend.
"Bread?" he asked.
"I do not understand."
Making hand gestures of cutting a loaf, Joshua made himself understood. She brought the loaf and he cut slices. Taking the meat fork from the hearth, he secured two slices and pantomimed toasting by hand. Giving Louisa the long-handled tool, he took a shorter fork and settled himself by her side so that he might toast a third.
After toasting one side, as Louisa turned her slices, she broke the silence. "Mr Junkins," she began, "I thank you for your help Monday -- and today," she blushed. "I know that I was not very polite -- Monday, I mean. It was wretched of me, saying nothing the entire ride home -- and especially not thanking you when we pulled up in the yard. It was horribly rude of me to dart into the house the way I did." She managed the words, but she could not bear more than a glance or two in his direction. "I am sorry."
He tapped her knee lightly. She forced a look. Very carefully, he said, "Apology accepted."
Louisa smiled. She had understood perfectly and could not miss the kindness in his eyes.
Again he tapped her knee and pointed to her toast. "Thank you again. It would not do to burn another loaf," she laughed as she removed the toasted slices.
"Well," came the voice of Mrs. Junkins. "I am glad to see that things are put back in order. And what a dear you are to make the tea, Mr Junkins," she said, observing the tray. She hung her cloak on the rack of pegs by the door and straightened her dress before facing back.
"And how is Mrs. Wentworth?" asked Joshua, taking care to speak slowly enough for Louisa.
"She was quite frightened actually, she could smell the smoke and was just flying out the door when I arrived at her room. I saw her settled back in the bed and smoothed the ruffled feathers a bit."
Louisa said nothing, but stared straight ahead at the dancing flames of the fire. Every word from Mrs. Junkins felt like pinpricks. All Catherine's anxiety was her doing. Had the Junkins' not come unexpectedly -- if Mrs. Wentworth had fallen as she hurried or in any way hurt herself -- She could not bear to continue the thought.
"I told her that I would bring the tea directly. Is the toast finished?" Her tone was crisp and she seemed not to notice Louisa's quietness.
Joshua brought her the piece from his fork and placed it with the others. "I think, Mrs. Junkins, that Mrs. Wentworth should take the tea upstairs."
"But I told Catherine ... " her voice trailed off as she studied her husband's face. "Yes, of course." She said to Louisa, "Mrs. Wentworth is waiting for her tea. Could you take it? I think she needs something after all the excitement." She folded her hands and looked at the young woman.
Louisa stood and hurriedly brushed a tear aside. "Of course she is waiting. Thank you both." She took the tray and bustled up the stairs.
"Now why the look Mr Junkins?"
"She is more than enough embarrassed. We do not need to heap rebuke on her."
"I did not rebuke her --"
"No, not directly. He lightly touched her arm, "But your tone was -- blunt."
She sighed, recognising that he was correct. "I know, but you did not see the look on Catherine's face. She is abed again and that means she is not well and I just ..."
"You are afraid for your friend. It is understandable, but the girl is a stranger too. He smiled and handed her a cup and saucer from the table. "Now you go up and take tea with your friends. I am going out to walk amongst the apple trees. He should have pruned them months ago, but perhaps it is not too late."
She watched him go. Looking at the cup, she shook her head and mumbled, "He always knows exactly how people feel. Even me." She turned and went up the stairs.
In Plymouth there was not so much excitement as curiosity and the drink was coffee, not tea. "Another cup here. Now Michaelson, just how did you come to be in Plymouth? You had mentioned taking your prize money and going back to -- " he held out the cup.
"Dorset, sir," he said as he poured. "That was my aim, but I got ... turned aside." He turned and replaced the pot on the warmer. "Are you particular about dinner sir? Your stores are what I would call, unsubstantial."
The Captain laughed and said, "You are being diplomatic. My stores are nonexistent. Pym did what he could, but he is an armourer by trade, not one accustomed to the responsibilities of a first-rate steward. I am not certain how long the Port authorities will relegate us to this -- butterbox, but I do not wish to load myself down with provisions that will be ground to powder by shifting them back and forth. No, better to have them stowed on the Laconia when she is finally ready and be done with it." He said this with more wishfulness than he was comfortable. "We shall have to go from week to week. As for dinner, whatever you are able to wrest from the cook, I shall make a valiant attempt to eat."
"Speaking of eating, am I too late, Captain?" Captain Harville poked his head in the door of the cabin. He stepped in and removed his hat. Handing it to Michaelson he took a seat.
"To tell the truth, I had forgotten your joining me. I have been enjoying the privileges that rank brings," he said, indicating his steward.
Harville exchanged a look with Michaelson. "So, you are glad of your surprise?"
Wentworth smiled. "And might this be of your doing?"
"Thank you," he said as the steward placed a plate before him. "Yes, as a matter of fact." Taking a bite of beefsteak, he talked through it, "And, this is not the only surprise." Concerning himself with his meal, Harville left the Captain to ponder his statement.
The Captain finished his coffee. Crossing his arms, he looked at his First Officer and wondered what else Harville might conjure. No hints would be coming from Harville, as he continued eating with his customary gusto and paid little mind to Wentworth.
"So out with it, Captain, what else is in store for me? Benwick come to be our Second? No, better yet, perhaps Croft has consented to sign on as the purser!" He laughed at his own joke, but ceased when Harville joined him.
"Well, now that you mention, I do have you a purser. I can vouch that the man is honest as your own brother would be." Harville resumed maiming his beefsteak.
"Well," Frederick brightened, "that is news. Old Rood's bad fortune in dying after such a nasty fall was an inconvenient business. I was not certain the loss would not dog us they entire voyage," he declared.
In the past week, George Henry Rood had fallen down the stairs leading from his mistress's rooms. The fall had broken his neck, but the gentleman had lived long enough to make an honest woman of his mistress and to have letters of farewell written to his wife in Portsmouth and the other in Swanage.
"The Laconia is much to large for me to try and serve as her purser." Captain Wentworth had done his own books for the two years he had commanded the Asp. The job was quite manageable with a ship as small as a sloop, but the task of the books and buying for a fifth-class frigate was far too vast for the captain alone.
As the position of purser was warranted by the Victualling Board and commissioned to a particular ship for her lifetime of duty, Mr Twist had been with the Laconia since Moses parted the seas. He had served Wentworth and the crew well, and, most importantly, with honesty. The Captain, after a few years, never had reason to wonder if he was being shammed. If Twist cheated anyone, it was one the merchant side as he was intelligent enough to keep a good relationship with the man who could have him flogged.
It was owing to the man's honesty that his fall and subsequent death were so tragic to the officers. An honest replacement would be difficult to find.
"And you say this one is honest? Is there such a creature?" He took another drink of coffee and continued before Harville could explain. "Having Rood all these years, but being regaled by other officers, I am not certain it is not a myth. Sirens, Sea Monsters and The Honest Purser -- myths all! I think it to be a phantasm, perpetuated by officers so bogged down in receipts, bills of lading and logs, they have driven themselves mad!"
Timothy smiled and wiped his mouth. Handing off the first plate to Michaelson, he accepted the second of eggs and toast and sausage, saying, "No, not this one. Honest as your brother." Facing down the eggs, he lowered his voice and said, "He is a clergyman. Top drawer with the books --" Harville knew that stuffing his mouth with toast would only put off the inevitable.
"A clergyman!" Frederick cried as he sat forward. "I will not carry a parson. While I am not quite the cartload of superstitions you are, my friend, I do believe in prudence! I have never carried a parson and never shall -- unless pressed by only the highest authorities!"
"You said that you wanted an honest purser. Tweedt -- "
"Tweedt! Not only a parson, but winged as well!"
"Please. He is Elsa's cousin, and comes from a family in trade."
Frederick glowered. "As do I. That does not assure his honesty nor skill in the post. Is that all that recommends him?"
"Yes." Harville pushed back his half-finished plate. "Sir, you want an honest man for the post and I will vouch for the honesty of Elias Tweedt. He possesses a beautiful hand and can keep a set of books more than admirably. Because his command of the language is not exactly fluent, I doubt very much that he will have many aspirations of the pulpit -- especially once he sees 'church.'
"He speaks no English? That is not so much a problem when a man is hauling, steering or reefing, but his honesty will not be any protection from dishonest tradesmen who have no feelings either way about cheating a foreigner. And cheating this particular foreigner cheats me!"
"True sir, but," said Harville, "he reads and understands the language magnificently! From what Solveig told us -- you remember Solveig," Frederick nodded, "she said that he bargained for their passage from Norway. It was a British merchantman bound for home but not taking any passengers. Not only did he get them aboard, but he got them the best of the accommodations and at a price that could best be called a losing proposition for the captain. And besides Frederick, we both know that no matter how loudly the men protest a man of God on board, when the times are desperate, even seamen seek that comfort without shame."
The two men sat looking at one another. Both were correct in their assertions. All that was left was for them to agree upon the appointing of Tweedt as purser.
Wentworth relented. "At this juncture, I have little choice," he said, spearing a sausage. "Still, mark me, if he even begins to play the holy man, I shall have him placed in the dinghy and towed. Am I clear?"
Harville did his best not to laugh at the idea. "Aye, sir. I shall make certain that Tweedt knows the rules."
"So, who else do you have for me? A singing surgeon perhaps? Midshipmen that pull double-duty as circus acrobats?" He called for Michaelson.
Harville fished in his pocket. Pulling out a warrant, he handed it to the Captain. "I have no idea if he sings, but his warrant is real and he had a letter or recommendation from the surgeon who sails with Captain Jack Aubrey.***"
"Ah, Aubrey, well, I'll not hold that against anyone." Wentworth took the warrant and read it once. He read it twice. After the third time, he declared, "Good G-d, Harville! First the Parson Purser, and now this! Is it truly your intention to flay me an inch at a time?"
To Be Continued
*binnacle -- A desklike piece of furniture, found on the deck of a ship near the helm, that housed the compass.
**A colloquial term referring to the closed society of a ship.
***Captain Jack Aubrey is the creation of Patrick O'Brian.
Chapter 4, Part 2
As Captain Wentworth sat at breakfast on the Moonshine and frowned over the warrant in his hand, many miles away Anne Elliot was frowning, too -- at the pages of a book. She had not read much of it, but what she had learned of the plot was enough to make her squirm. The heroineĖs family had been cruelly wronged by a weak-willed half-brother who would not act to give them a proper income, as he had sworn to do. At this point in the story, the widow and her daughters were about to be cast adrift to live as best they could in a remote location in the country. The three unmarried sisters had no dowry, no expectation of society, and very little income. And the hero? So far, he had not made his appearance, or if he had, Anne was not impressed.
But Barton Cottage would surely be better than Bath! Anne thought, as she put the book aside and rose to take a turn before the windows. At last she came to a halt; her eyes traced the path of a drop of water as it slid down one of the glass panes. Never had she been more weary of Bath -- chilly, crowded, fog-swathed Bath! Anne knew this thought was ridiculous, for just yesterday evening she had exulted in the musical delights this city had to offer. But today? Today there was a heaviness in her heart which she could not explain. Her eyes strayed to the street below.
A burst of laughter recalled her attention to her present surroundings. This forenoon a lively card game was underway; Mary made a fourth and so had relieved Anne of voicing a refusal to play. The atmosphere in the room was decidedly cheerful, for a caller had lately arrived -- a man who never failed to please each of the members of her family.
But although she made conscientious effort to participate, their conversation did not hold AnneĖs attention for long. Soon she was wandering once more the world of her thoughts.
Why did he look at me so? The question repeated itself over and over, as did her recollection of the expression in Captain BenwickĖs eyes. He was laughing, I know it! But after the interval, he was so grave! He hardly said a thing! Anne continued to puzzle over the Concert as she paced before the windows. And why does he not come? He knows this is our morning at home and yet ...
"A penny for your thoughts, Cousin." A friendly voice brought Anne abruptly back to the drawing room. Mr Elliot had drifted away from his post at the game table and was now standing beside her. His fingers teazingly held out a coin.
She could not help but smile. "That is hardly a penny, Mr Elliot."
He looked at it with mock surprise. "So it is -- or, I should say, it isnĖt! But your face has a look of great pensiveness, Cousin. I believe your thoughts today are worth more."
"No oneĖs thoughts are worth a guinea, Mr Elliot," she replied. "I was merely remembering the Concert last night ... and the wonderful music."
"Ah, yes, you did enjoy it. I am gratified to hear you say so."
"Gratified? Why?" The words left her lips before she could stop them. But if Mr Elliot felt any discomposure, he never showed it.
"Why not?" said he, and his smile grew wider. "After all, you spent the entire evening in my company."
"But not alone! I mean, there was also ..."
"Mmmm. Though it did not appear that you enjoyed his company very well."
To her annoyance, Anne found she was blushing. "I did not mean him, er, that!" She stammered in her attempt to explain her thoughtless remark. " I meant that your answer perplexes me. I said I enjoyed the music ... and you spoke in such a way ... almost as if you were responsible for it." AnneĖs eyes searched his face for clues but found only his customary pleasant expression.
"Which is a nonsensical thought, for of course you were not," she continued. "Unless ... Lady Russell is correct in her assumption ..."
"Which is?" His smile was vexing, but irritation gave Anne the courage to speak her mind.
"She told me you were a patron, anonymously. Is this true?"
Now it was William ElliotĖs turn to flush, but he did not look away. "Lady Russell is a great deal too ... No, no. Forgive me! I can hide nothing from you, it is useless to try!" He glanced at game table before continuing.
"You have found me out," he said, in a more subdued tone. "Things were a bit difficult for the company. Funding, you know. And your father had already purchased tickets for the family." Mr Elliot hesitated, then said softly, "I knew of your great love of music, Miss Anne. When I intervened, I believe I thought only of you."
"And I am not alone," he continued smoothly, "in wishing to secure the pleasure of a lady through generosity. I believe an admirer of your sisterĖs has done the same. I rather expected to see the fellow this morning; he must be late." William raised an eyebrow at the expression on AnneĖs face. "But you disapprove?"
Anne did not know where to look. "It was not proper for you to act from such a motive, sir!" As she said the words, another question rose in her mind. She boldly lifted her eyes to his.
"And yesterday! Those coins I found on the pavement ..."
"Which were there by happenstance!" His tone brooked no argument; his smile slipped only for a moment.
"Was it because of my sympathy that you thought I left them for you?" he said softly. "I am flattered by such an opinion!"
William leaned closer. "My dear, all too well do I understand your situation -- and the humiliation deprivation can bring! I understand the pain you feel! When I was studying law, I was forced to live as ..."
For the barest moment his eyes flashed, but he quickly mastered the emotion and began again, speaking in a tone of great earnestness.
"I know what you think of me, Miss Anne. I know of the contempt in which you hold the marriage I made. I do not blame you for that, but perhaps I may make you see. I was young and foolish ... and weary of the hardscrabble existence I was forced to eke out!" Anne stared at him in surprise.
"Surely your fortune was not so small as to reduce you to living in abject poverty, Mr Elliot!"
"Near enough. And I foolishly allowed myself to be swayed by the admiration of a well-looking young woman, a woman who aspired to become Lady Elliot one day." Mr Elliot lowered his voice to a whisper.
"Such admiration is difficult for a man to resist, Miss Anne ... as you have daily proof." His eyes traveled significantly to the game table. "She has the same ambition, I can recognise that now. And I fear your poor father may be blind to his situation ... as was I."
"Mrs Clay?" Anne exclaimed. "You see that, too?" In her relief, she instantly forget his other perplexing comments. "We are of the same opinion, Mr Elliot," she said eagerly. "But what is to be done?"
"A great deal, I believe," he answered.
Anne was not convinced. "I have spoken to Elizabeth," she whispered, "several times. But she has not heeded my advice."
"No, she is too fond of her own opinion to see the value of yours. But perhaps we might take a more direct approach to circumvent the danger, Anne. You and I, working together, might accomplish it."
And then William Elliot was summoned to join the others. He gave her arm a pat before he moved off.
"Courage, Anne," he whispered. "All will be well in the end, I promise." His voice took on a bantering tone as he then addressed the group at the table.
"How fare you, Sir Walter?" he called. "Has my Cousin Mary trounced you and bled you dry?" As the women tittered at this sally, Anne was left alone to puzzle over his closing words.
'All will be well,Ė she mused. What can that signify? And how might we work together? Her eyes strayed to the window; she looked anxiously at the street below as she recalled a more troubling thought. Where in the world can he be?
At that very moment, the man in question was seated at the desk in the library at Chauntecleer, accompanied by a bright fire, a large cup of coffee, and a copy of the scriptures. A text had caught his attention; he frowned as he read it once again.
'Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor what is evil, cleave to that which is good.Ė
"That is, let love be without ... hyporcisy," Captain Benwick muttered. He could not say this last word without an image of William ElliotĖs smiling face rising in his mind.
Genuine love is not a self-serving, self-gratifying love, he grumbled to himself. And if ever a man looked to be aware of his own value and interests, it is he! The manĖs behaviour toward Anne last evening was plainly flirtatious -- and the moment she was gone, what should Elliot do but speak in precisely the same way to her sister! This certainly was circumvention at its finest, but why?
Benwick took a sip of coffee and thought some more about the Concert. Had he overheard those conversations several years earlier, he would have dismissed ElliotĖs words as mere gallantry. But his own engagement had taught him well the delightful art of flirtation and he recognised ElliotĖs genuine interest in Anne. He was working very hard to win her heart, and presumably, her hand. But why would he want Elizabeth, too?
And should I alert Anne? James pondered this for quite some time. One simply could not say, 'Miss Anne, I believe your cousinĖs attentions are fallacious and insincere!Ė After all, he would be attempting to put Anne on her guard against a man of her own family! It looked to be impossible.
James pushed back his chair and moved to stand before the tall windows behind the desk. He must speak with her alone, that much was clear. But when would there be opportunity to do this? Tomorrow? That was the day for the poetry group; no chance there. And today? Would he dare to come before her on her familyĖs morning at home, possibly with her cousin right at hand?
It must be the poetry meeting, then, he decided. BenwickĖs eyes roamed the shelves of his great uncleĖs library as he thought. It would be best to speak to her through the medium of poetry, but whatever he chose, it must be exactingly precise in meaning. He let out a sigh and began to pace about the room as he considered the dilemma. Two sisters, one suitor -- one sly, deceptive, trusted suitor whose ultimate intentions are unclear. He passed a hand over his eyes.
Presently he returned to the desk, pulled his cup closer, and stirred the coffee as he thought carefully about pairs of sisters. Rachael and Leah? Benwick dismissed them quickly; Jacob had wanted to marry only the younger and was cruelly tricked by her father. Katharina and Bianca? Benwick frowned. No, Petruchio had courted only the shrewish Katharina.
Courted. The word hung in his mind as he finished the last of his coffee. All at once, his head came up. "He courted the eldest with glove and ring .... ," he recited. "Of course! Binnorie! It must be here somewhere ..."
Benwick was on his feet in a moment, eager to examine his uncleĖs collection of poetry. The volumes were not well organised, much to his frustration. Finally, he found himself looking on a lower shelf in a corner, the place where his late fatherĖs books were housed.
Impatiently he read through the titles. At last, he found it: a volume of Scottish poetry with an oddly-textured leather cover, very worn; the lettering on the spine was nearly faded away. With great care, he leafed through the fragile pages until he found what he was looking for.
"Perfect," he muttered, and read the first stanzas aloud.
'There were twa sisters sat in a bour;
Binnorie, O Binnorie!
There cam a knight to be their wooer,
By the bonnie mill-dams oĖ Binnorie.
He courted the eldest with glove and ring,
But he loĖed the youngest aboon a thing.Ė
Benwick smiled grimly as read through the remainder. So the fellow was a knight, was he? Not quite a baronet, but itĖll do. All that remained was to get this volume into AnneĖs hands, guide her through the piece, and trust her to discern the truth.
While he was considering how best to bring this meeting about, the younger Yee entered the room with a fresh pot of coffee. Benwick murmured his thanks but kept his eyes on the text of the poem. After a moment or two, he looked up. Yee stood at attention before the desk.
"I beg your pardon, sir," the man said, "but I have been charged with an invitation. Sir Robin wishes you to join him for tea this afternoon."
"Today?" Benwick groaned inwardly, for he could not refuse his elderly cousin.
"Yes, sir. It is one of his good days; he has them very rarely. He wishes this to be an outdoor affair. We are, er, heating 'Sherwood ForestĖ now. And I believe he expects you to sing, sir," Yee added.
"You arenĖt moving the pianoforte into the conservatory, too, are you?" Benwick muttered. He covered his eyes with his hand for a moment and sighed. "Best to prepare the staff for the inevitable, then. I shall sing, but I refuse to play! That would be worse than anything! And I carry no accompanist in my pocket to facilitate Sir Robin on these occasions, so youĖd best brace yourself for an a cappella catastrophe! Unless ... that is ... I wonder ... "
A twinkle came into in Captain BenwickĖs eyes, his lips twitched, and then a full-fledged grin appeared as a most interesting idea came to mind.
"Yee," he announced at last, very cheerfully, "You may present my compliments to Sir Robin; I shall certainly attend. And will you please lay a place at table for another guest. Now that I think on it, I may be able to produce a pianist after all."
And so it was that within the hour, James Benwick had made his plans and was standing before Sir WalterĖs door. He eyed the brass knocker warily before taking it in hand. Many times he had brought unwelcome news to a superior -- and he knew this invitation would be most unwelcome to AnneĖs fastidious father. To succeed with him would require a bit of abstruse phraseology; if only he could manage it! At last, James gathered his resolve and rapped firmly at the door.
Presently he was ushered into the drawing room and was welcomed as before: warmly by Anne and not at all by her family. He was coming to recognise the tactic employed by the Elliot clan to repulse an unwanted visitor: the awkward silence. But their effort came to nothing, for Anne was genuinely pleased to see him and said so.
Sir Walter had only this comment: "You should have left your hat in the hall with Burton, Captain."
"Thank you, Sir Walter, but I do not stay," Benwick replied politely, with a formal bow. "I am here on an errand for my cousin, Sir Robin. I am to say that he would be pleased to invite Miss Anne to join him for tea this afternoon."
"Eh? Sir ... Robin?" Sir Walter wrinkled his nose. "Who in the world is that?"
Captain Benwick kept his face perfectly serious as he said, "I believe his formal name is Sir Robert Locksley, sir. Although we have never called him other than "Sir Robin" among the family, at his request. He is an elderly relation of mine; a gentleman who is very weak and frail, but a most kind and gentle soul. His family line is an ancient one, of the East Midlands.
"East Midlands? Where in the East Midlands?"
"Er, I believe ... Nottinghamshire, sir."
"I see. Mmmm, his name does sound familiar, somehow. Mrs Clay," Sir Walter turned to his companion with a smile of apology, "I hate to trouble you, my dear, but would you kindly bring the Baronetage? And my spectacles?"
Soon Sir Walter had the volume on the table and was leafing through its pages, muttering, "Locksly, Locksly."
As he did so, James began to be alarmed. Was such genealogical information catalogued in a book? If so, he was hung! For he had no idea whether dear, deranged Robin was a relation at all -- or simply an impoverished friend of his great aunt and uncle! He rather doubted the title 'SirĖ was genuine, either -- but the only thing to do now was to brazen it out. He turned to Anne.
"Sir Robin has heard me speak of you, Miss Anne, and he would like the pleasure of meeting you himself. I know this is not a conventional invitation, but it would mean the world to him."
"I am free this afternoon," Anne said softly. "And I would be pleased to accept if ..." Her eyes traveled significantly to her father, who was poring over the pages with Mrs Clay.
"I believe the name is spelled with an 'ey,Ė sir," Mrs Clay whispered helpfully, as they put their heads together to examine the entries.
"Ah, yes. Quite right. And here we are: Sir Rrrrobert Locksley. Yes, he is mentioned, do you see? Quite closely connected to the earl of Huntingdon." Sir Walter pointed to the reference for Mrs ClayĖs benefit.
"He is?" Benwick coughed in an attempt to cover his slip. "I mean, he is a very ancient gentleman! I had no idea he would be in such an, er, modern listing."
"But of course. The truly worthy lineages, such as ours, are all ancient. And he is of your family?" Sir Walter looked at Benwick over the top of his spectacles.
"To be honest, sir, I do not know," Captain Benwick admitted. "He has always been referred to as my 'cousin,Ė though I must be several generations removed."
"It is very singular that he should wish to meet Miss Anne." This was from William Elliot, who stood behind the game table. Benwick wisely ignored the comment and addressed Sir Walter.
"Sir RobinĖs dignities are irrefragable but I must tell you that the company today will not be in keeping with his station, Sir Walter. Your daughter is becoming known in Bath for her charitable kindnesses and this would certainly qualify as such. The other members of the party will be Dr Minthorne, who is also our neighbour -- and who has approved of this occasion, I might add -- and a female cousin who is his assistant.
"Doctor Minthorne! I have heard that name." Mary now spoke up. "Elizabeth, is he not the man who is attending poor Mr Turner? Miss Carteret told me that her mother would have no other!"
Elizabeth and Sir Walter exchanged a look; clearly they could not argue with the approval of the Vicountess.
"Very well, Anne, you may attend. For although it is not an occasion I would like myself, the Captain is right: charity is not to be avoided." Sir Walter smiled. "And I expect word of your kindness will come to our cousin through this doctor -- and that would not be a bad thing, eh?" It was decided that Captain Benwick and Doctor Minthorne would come for Anne in his carriage shortly before three.
For her part, Anne was longing to ask Captain Benwick about the Concert, but she had no idea how to begin. She settled for escorting him from the drawing room in hopes of finding an opportunity to speak in the hall. Unfortunately, she neglected to close the door fully and as Captain Benwick began to speak of Sir RobinĖs love of music, her fatherĖs voice could be heard quite plainly:
"I object to both his family and his person, Mr Elliot. That is the worst of it! If only he were not so scruffy in his appearance! The other was at least tolerable-looking! A-hem! And now, Mary, I believe the next move is yours ..."
Anne looked at Benwick in horror. "I am so sorry!" she whispered hoarsely. "My father has very exacting standards concerning appearance ..."
"Yes, I know. And I am in good company, it seems." Benwick gave her a lopsided smile. "Tell me, has he approved of any of your suitors?"
"Why ... no." Anne had to smile, it was too ridiculous.
"I thought as much. Until three oĖclock, then, Miss Anne."
And before she could say another word, Captain Benwick had made his bow and was on his way out the door.
Chapter 4, Part III
Louisa looked out the window. She paid little heed to either the conversation between Mrs Wentworth and Mrs Junkins, or the view from the Rectory's second floor window. She had been in the midst of an apology when Mrs Junkins had joined them for tea. It was just as well. Her only excuse for the accident in the kitchen was distraction and she could never have told her sister-in-law that she had been pretending to serve her far-away husband, tea.
"She would think me daft, that is certain," Louisa thought. "Nonsensical, childish -- "
"Louisa, would you care for another cup?" Catherine asked.
The young woman started at her name and turned to see Beatrice lift the tea pot in an offer.
"No," she said, looking into her nearly full cup. She smiled, "I am fine, but thank you." The sun was breaking out of the clouds and she could see that a small place in the valley was receiving its warmth. Just as she was about to turn from the window and rejoin the ladies, she noticed a familiar man riding by in a well-appointed curricle. He stopped for a moment, and then manoeurvred the rig in a full circle. With little trouble, he brought the small carriage to a stop, directly facing the Rectory.
It was an astonishing thing to watch, but what proved more astonishing was that the man then stood, lifted his hat and bowed -- bowed to her!
Smiling, for a moment, Louisa looked closer and realised the man was Pollard Levant.
He replaced the hat, took his seat and began looking at her through the window. He began to move his hands as though gesturing to her. It only took a moment for her to realise that he waved at her. Conscious that she was not alone, she slightly lifted her free hand so that they might not see, and returned his wave. She then realised that he no longer waved, but beckoned her to him.
For the briefest of moments, she was quite charmed. She then remembered her conversation with the Rector. Shaking her head as much as she dared, she waited for him to go. But he would not. Levant continued to face the Rectory and his gestures were becoming more pronounced. Louisa thought it best to excuse herself, go down to the man and bid him gone.
"So, I persuaded you to come down."
"Yes," she said. "I do not think you left me much choice." Louisa stood behind the hedge, taking comfort that he was mounted and they were separated. "What might you need Mr Levant?"
"Oh, so formal. Please, call me Pollard."
Louisa blushed. She was just able to call her husband by his Christian name, and had never called the Rector such. His request was impossible. "I thank you for the compliment, but I believe that it would not be right -- Mr Levant."
Levant's face betrayed nothing of his feelings. "Very well then, we shall remain formal -- for now." He dismounted and stood close to the hedge. "I have seen my manager today -- " The horse violently bobbed its head and Levant yanked violently back on the reins. Turning back to her, he said, You did ask what I might need. I need to see a lovely face, for not only is my man ugly, he had very bad news for me." Levant began to make for the opening to the path. Louisa stepped back and he stopped.
"I am sorry that you have had bad news." She watched him closely, fearing that the hedge would not be much of a barrier for long.
"So am I. It looks as though I will be forced to take some drastic measures -- and very soon."
Louisa understood his meaning precisely and was now caught up in what he said rather than his presence. "Soon? How soon?"
"Oh, what was weeks, is now days I think. Precious few days."
"And there is nothing else to be done?"
"I can not see any alternatives to what I had told you. And my man is quite insistent that I act." He leant close into the hedge. "You see Lou-- Mrs Wentworth, I am powerless."
Joshua had examined the all apple trees in the grove and was satisfied that, though it was late in the season, with just a just a day or twos work, he could have them pruned and ready for spring. He was more closely examining a cane when something caught his eye. Looking to the carriageway, he saw Mrs Wentworth talking to Pollard Levant.
Joshua moved slowly, so not to be noticed, behind the tree, and kept the two in sight. It was obvious that they had not noticed his presence.
Levant dismounted his rig. Good, Joshua thought as she moved back when he moved towards her. She does not like him.
Mrs Wentworth and her meeting with Levant had bothered Junkins quite a lot. He did not wish to think that his friend was married to a schemer, and while he was still not convinced that the young woman was completely innocent, with her earlier apology and now, watching this exchange, his opinion of her was rising markedly.
Ah. He has moved too quickly, Joshua murmured as he saw Levant advance once more towards the path. Louisa stepped back again and then suddenly turned and ran back to the house.
Just then, he realised that Levant was staring towards him. Joshua stepped out from behind the tree and twisted off a short cane. The two examined one another for a very short time when Joshua turned his back to Levant. Soon he heard the sound of horses hooves retreating down the carriageway.
Harville looked at his captain with shock. "Flay you, sir? I have no idea what you mean by such a thing. We needed a surgeon and this man presented a warrant and credentials more than suff -- "
The Captain raised his hand. "I know, Timothy, I know. Dr Hemmings is a capable medico as far as I am concerned." He looked again at the warrant. "It is his moral character with which I am concerned." Tossing the warrant back on the table, he folded his arms and sighed, "You had no way of knowing that this would not be Dr Hemmings' first commission on the Laconia."
Harville's expression remained one of shock and surprise. He had spoken at length with Dr Hemmings and at no point during the interview had the man made any mention of being familiar with the Laconia, her captain, or of having sailed aboard her in the past.
He dropped his utensils and wiped his mouth. "I will certainly have it out with Hemmings -- tear up his papers. He has used me ill in this -- he obviously did not wish me to know of his connection to the ship and therefore hid it. He cannot have anything honourable on his mind in doing so! There be no need for you to -- "
Again the Captain interrupted him. "There will be no need to strike him from the crew." He stood and taking up the warrant, studied it further. As he did, he remembered the man it named. "When he signed on, he knew that I was captain, he cannot claim ignorance in that. Why he would do this ... "
Now curious, Harville asked, if he might, what the doctor had done that caused such a violent reaction.
Frederick smiled. "On his first sail, he was charmed into the cable tier by, what we thought to be, the waiting woman of a female passenger."
"Female passenger?!" Harville cried. "I thought my Elsa had been the only woman you had ever taken anywhere!"
"Oh no, Harville." He tossed the paper to the table and called again for Michaelson. "While that cruise is not the entire basis for my objecting to women aboard ships, it cemented my position rigidly enough." Michaelson appeared and instructions were given him concerning dinner at three.
"Why, again may I ask, are you inviting the man to dinner?"
The Captain had been looking out the window when Harville summoned the courage to ask his question. He turned and smiled. "I wish to see the doctor -- and your Tweedt. It is not so unusual for the Captain to dine with his Ward room officers, now is it?"
Timothy studied Frederick. "As your friend, I must say, I do not like the look about you."
"And what might there be about my look that you do not like?" Frederick asked with interest.
Harville cleared his throat. "All I mean is that ... when you use that tone and have that look ... well -- "
"Out with it, Harville."
"It just means, sir, that ... look always means you are looking forward to something."
He smiled more broadly. Harville's equivocation was obvious. "Is it wrong for a host to anticipate his party?" He walked over and picked up the warrant. "I am looking forward to this reacquainting myself with our surgeon -- and my other guests."
"This was most definitely a night to look forward to," thought Wentworth as he watched the table. "Many surprises."
The evening had started well -- every man had been on time. The guest list had grown throughout the day until the total finally reached six and the party moved from the cramped dining room aboard the Moonshine, to the Golden Knight and a private room there.
As he looked around the table, he was not only pleased with what he saw, he looked very much forward to a cruise comprised of such skilled men.
Continued in Part 4
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