Love Suffers Long and Is Kind, Volume IV
Chapter 7, Part 1
To my dear friend and writing partner-in-crime,
who has patiently listened for the past year (at least!)
as I talked out endless variations of this wretchedly complex chapter.
Merci beaucoup! ~~ LL
A soft clattering jostled its way to the front of Anne╠s consciousness. It was the housemaid come to build up the fire in her bedchamber. Anne rubbed her eyes, stretched her limbs, and pulled the extra pillow over her head. It was early and it was cold!
After a brief time of silence, someone else entered the darkened room. From beneath the pillow, Anne could hear the swish of silk and some soft muttering in French. This was obviously Elise. Anne peeked from under the bedding. By the dim light of the fire, she could see the woman hanging a dress on the front of the wardrobe door. Then Anne remembered, this was the day of the Assembly.
"Bah! So much work I must do aujourd╠hui! Je travaille du matin au soir!" Elise grumbled in a perverse whisper as she knelt to pull the skirt of the gown straight. 'Maintenant, Elise!╠ 'Tout de suite, Elise!╠ For so many! Les deux mademoiselles, Madame Mary, et," and then she nearly spat, "la souillon, Madame Clay!"
Anne smiled into her pillow. Of course! Poor Elise, desperately loyal to Lady Elliot, would surely dislike Penelope Clay! Did even the servants see what the woman was about? She decided to sit up.
"Bonjour, Elise," she called, very cheerfully. "Qu╠est-ce qui se passe?"
A few minutes later Anne was scrambling out of her nightdress and into the beautiful deep blue ball gown. Elise was pleased to complete the final fitting this early in the day and Anne was just as happy to comply. She ran her fingers over the lustrous silk fabric of the bodice and sighed in quiet delight. It was difficult to see the reflection in the mirror, but it was obvious that the dress was perfect. Anne stared at her image as Elise fussed with the hem. Such a wondrous gown! Even with her hair hanging loose and her feet encased in thick stockings, Anne felt beautiful. And what was more, the puzzling emotions which had oppressed her yesterday had disappeared entirely. It was a new day.
"A new day. Wonderful." James Benwick muttered the same sentiment several hours later, as he sat at the desk in the library at Chauntecleer. "A new day, plum full of blunders -- to be made by me!"
He scowled at a document on the desk, checked a reference in a worn notebook beside it, and then sat back and stared into empty space. The translation was complete; he had made it as painfully accurate as possible. It would probably end up in the fire, as it was not fit to be seen by such a great lady. But in a case like this, truth must triumph over propriety.
James took another sip of coffee and folded the paper neatly. As he was putting it into the pocket of his coat, Yee brought in the morning╠s post.
It must be sorted and James did so listlessly, until his attention was arrested by an all-too-familiar scrawl on the face of the last one: his brother Milton╠s. The rest were pushed aside and he quickly broke the seal. For a few moments there was silence as he read it through, twice. He lowered it with a groan.
The news at first was excellent: Agatha Wrenwyth╠s will has been found in London. The second paragraph brought home the dismal part. In his usual high-handed way, Milton had set the time for the reading of it to suit his own schedule, without consulting James.
Benwick tossed the letter onto the desk in disgust. "In London, not Bath, thank you, Milton," he grumbled. "On Monday, this Monday morning, at ten. How very typical." In order to arrive before Sunday, James would need to drop everything and head for the Metropolis today -- with the account books, his great aunt╠s jewelry cases, and the assessment of valuation for the house in hand.
"Well, this just caps it," he mumbled to himself. "Finally, the inheritance. Finally, I am able to speak to Anne. And what have I done but ..."
The memory of Anne╠s tears, as they began to spill down her cheeks, brought a tightness to his throat. What he had wanted to do yesterday was to take her in his arms and kiss those tears away, to make her forget Frederick and her painful memories -- but how could he? For this time he had been the cause of them!
Of all times to be called away on business, this surely is the worst, he thought bitterly. For the London mail left at five o╠clock -- and this was the evening of the Assembly, his chance to see Anne and somehow make amends for yesterday╠s disaster! James bit his lip and forced himself to think clearly.
After a while, the expression on his face underwent a change. Perhaps things were not as hopeless as they first appeared. He counted the hours on his fingers, double-checked his calculations, and sat back, considering an idea.
He didn╠t want to think about the cost of hiring a private chaise, but Anne was certainly worth any amount he would spend. He had worked hard for the money he had saved; perhaps it was now time to make that money work for him. And besides, if all went as expected, he would be inheriting a tidy sum. What would Harville say, James wondered with a wry smile, if he could see me now, spending a small fortune to attend an odious formal ball!
In the meantime, he had another chore: to visit the Vicountess with his translation of that Italian folk song. It was nothing to him if an opera singer made an idiot of herself in public, but it was another matter for a gently-bred young woman to do so, especially if she was ignorant of what she was singing. And after, I╠ll call on Anne to explain my departure," he decided, That is, if she╠ll consent to see me.
"A caller? Do you mean now?" Elizabeth turned round from her seat at the dressing table, where Elise was busy papering her hair. "Who on earth would be so rude as to call today?"
"Certainly no one we know," Mary added.
Anne laid down the ivory-handled fan she had been examining. "I╠ll go down, Elizabeth. I don╠t mind. There is nothing else for me to do until Elise is free."
"It╠s probably just Charles, " Mary said, as she adjusted the towel which was wound around her damp hair. "He would come around now! I suppose he has nothing to do. Can you imagine, he wanted to cart us back to Uppercross today! And cause me to miss the Assembly!"
"But he has changed his mind, so all is well," Anne reminded, and she crossed the room with light steps. She was wearing the soft kid dancing slippers to become accustomed to them; they felt delightful on her feet.
"Monday morning is bad enough, but I suppose it could be worse. Papa Musgrove needs the horses, or some such thing," Mary muttered, as Anne opened the door. "Tell Charles to take himself off, Anne!" she called after her sister. "There must be plenty of gun shops he can visit in a city this size."
But the man who waited in the drawing room was not Charles Musgrove.
"Why, Captain Benwick! Hello!" Anne greeted him with a sunny smile. "I did not expect to see you 'til this evening. Won╠t you sit down?"
As she took a seat opposite his, Anne could not help but notice the grave expression in his eyes. She hastened to say, "I apologise for running off and leaving you with the Poetry Group yesterday. I ... don╠t know what came over me! I╠m so much better now. Mary told me everyone had a delightful afternoon. I thank you." And without giving him a chance to speak, Anne chatted on about Charles╠ recovery and how excited everyone was to attend the Assembly. As she talked, she saw his countenance brighten.
"I doubt I have attended such a grand event as this Assembly promises to be," he confessed, with a bashful smile. "Although many of the Admirals entertain on quite a lavish scale." A sparkle come into his eyes as he added, "I╠m quite fond of dancing, or at least I became so, once Fanny took me in hand. She liked dancing very well. Do you?"
Anne hesitated; she was reluctant to say that she had given it up, for he would no doubt think of Frederick -- and her foolish tears of yesterday. She could not bear to see the sad, stricken expression return to his face. Instead she said, "It has been so long; I fear I have forgotten many of the steps. And I have never exactly learned the new ones. Which is rather ironic," she smiled, " for I have played the tunes often enough, for others to learn by."
"However, I do not repine," she added cheerfully. "I shall content myself to enjoy the music and the beautiful surroundings."
"Will there be waltzing tonight? The steps for that are simple enough. In fact, I could teach you those myself."
"The ... waltz? Oh, no, I could never ... It is quite improper to ..." And then she saw his eyes begin to cloud. "Well," she amended, "It may not be so improper as it once was, and I╠m sure there was no harm in dancing it with Miss Harville ... but ..."
Anne did not know what to say; the last thing she wanted to do was wound him. She decided she needed to make amends for her behaviour yesterday. Perhaps a small compromise was in order.
"I don╠t think I could ever waltz in public, Captain Benwick," she confided. "But perhaps you could show me the steps ... There would be no harm in that. It is not as if I would be actually dancing it."
And so began a waltzing lesson -- with a most reluctant pupil. Anne could hardly believe she had consented to such a thing! She and Captain Benwick stood side by side at the far end of the drawing room and together counted the beat as she learned the footwork: one-two-three, one-two-three. She was flustered at first, but she relaxed as the steps became familiar. Benwick then took her hand in his, holding it by the fingertips to aid her with balance, while he hummed a waltzing tune. Gradually they increased the tempo until they were moving quite well together.
At last he said, "Shall we?" and came about to face her. He now took her hand fully in his and placed his other on her waist. Anne swallowed down her embarrassment and tried not to blush. It was quite ridiculous to be so shy of him; did not other couples who meant nothing to one another dance this way in public? Still, she did not know where to look. He was not so tall as Frederick; his eyes were nearer to hers. Her heart was pounding as she placed her hand on his shoulder. Anne bit her lip and frowned in an effort to concentrate on the dance.
"Is something wrong?" he asked.
"No, er, that is ... I╠m trying to remember which foot to move first."
"That one," he nodded. "You step back as I step forward. Ready?"
"Er, yes ... I ... think so." And at his signal, Anne promptly stepped the wrong way, colliding directly into his chest.
"I╠m so sorry!" she stammered. "My feet! I╠m ... I╠m so stupid when it comes to dancing!"
But James Benwick did not step back, nor did he release her. In fact, his hold tightened slightly.
"Anne," he whispered, "Anne, I ..."
But he was cut short by the tiniest sound: the opening of the drawing room door.
"Hullo?" a cheerful voice called. "I say! Is anybody here?" It was Charles.
Elise was now working on Mary╠s hair, thus setting Elizabeth free to move about the room. She gently caressed her new ball gown, a warm toffee-coloured silk. Not quite golden and not quite light brown, the colour suited Elizabeth exactly. It was her choice of jewelry which was troubling.
The Stevenson diamonds, which had not yet gone for 'cleaning,╠ were the obvious choice for anyone wanting to press her social standing. But Elizabeth knew the colorless stones would look drab with such a gorgeous dress. Her mother╠s string of pearls, with their creamy, lustrous patina, would be just the thing.
The pearls or the diamonds? Elizabeth wrestled with the decision for quite some time. It was imperative to be right, but it was equally important to be beautiful. She looked to the dress with a sigh. Anne would wear the Elliot sapphires ... and here she was, wanting to wear such a simple necklace. How lovely it would be if she could dress as she pleased, without worrying about the impression she made!
Perhaps, as Mrs Rushworth, I could, she mused. She knew his former wife was very beautiful and had been expected to become a new leader of fashion, before she had run off. Mrs Elizabeth Rushworth ... She released the fabric of the gown and sighed as she thought. It sounded very well but 'Lady Elizabeth Elliot╠ sounded so much better -- though she would not be half so rich. Perhaps tonight she could attach her reluctant cousin, for he would be transporting the family in his carriage.
The pearls, she decided firmly, as she thought some more about him. It was much more important to be beautiful.
Meanwhile, things in the drawing room had taken an interesting turn. Anne and Captain Benwick had hastily released one another, obviously flustered by Charles╠ arrival. And Charles had been embarrassed, too, as he saw the expressions on their faces. In an attempt to make conversation, Anne mentioned the lesson he had interrupted. It then came out that Charles had always wanted to learn the waltz, to please Mary. In fact, he wished he had learned before tonight, so that he could dance it with her. His expression was so pitiful that Captain Benwick was goaded into offering to show him the steps, if Anne would consent to play.
And so, another waltzing lesson commenced -- a very different sort of lesson than the first, especially when the time came for the 'couple╠ to dance together.
"Anne," Charles complained cheerfully. "Slow up! You╠re playing too fast." He then returned his attention to the task at hand.
"Now then, Benwick, start again. And aren╠t you supposed to be pushing me around?"
Anne removed her hands from the keys and waited, barely able to keep a giggle in check as she listened to the dancers╠ banter.
"Do you mean leading you? No, you do that, Musgrove. You guide me through the dance, remember?"
"But I thought I was the woman this time!"
"No, I╠m the woman. And you╠ve got the footwork all wrong. Step forward with that foot as I step back, like this." He demonstrated the movement.
"Benwick! Now you╠re pulling me! Er, 'leading╠, I mean. Sorry. Are you sure I╠m not the woman?" Charles could barely keep a straight face. He shook his head and muttered, "You know, I could╠ve sworn I was the wom ..."
"Say, Anne!" he called, in sudden inspiration. "You don╠t happen to have a spare petticoat that would fit Benwick, here ..."
"NO, Musgrove! And quit tramping on my feet!" James ordered. "You would wear your boots today," he added, under his breath.
"Sorry, Benwick. Now, when do we get to the twirling part?"
"Later! After you╠ve mastered the basic steps. And you spin me around, I╠m the woman!"
"If you say so ..."
"Look, Charles. You have your hand on my waist! That means you╠re the man."
"Then you╠re in need of a corset, dear James. For you have no waist!"
Captain Benwick gave his dancing partner a withering look.
"Go ahead, Miss Anne," he called over his shoulder. "You play, and we╠ll start as we are able." He looked back at Charles. "Ready?"
"Yes, dear," Charles smirked, as the music began. "But you know, James, you should be leading me, if we are to be true to life.
"Charles, you are not the woman this time! How often must I tell ..."
"But it╠s true!" Charles protested. "All the married women I know -- every last one of 'em -- lead their husbands around ... by a ring ... in the nose!"
James raised an eyebrow. "But we are not married, dear-heart!"
"Hah! Don╠t get your hopes up, James. I╠m the man and I shall never ask for your hand!"
Anne could barely control her laughter, indeed, it was a good thing she knew this particular waltz so well or she could never have played it. Her eyes watered, she began to sniff, and at last she knocked the music to the floor as she attempted to turn the page! And so, alternately wiping away tears and choking back the giggles, Anne bravely struggled on through the remainder of the lesson.
As the time for the Assembly drew near, an air of anticipation filled Sir Walter╠s house. The members of his family began to gather in the drawing room, with many a smile between them. Unfortunately, Mr Elliot╠s carriage could hold only four, so they were to travel in two groups. Sir Walter, his two unmarried daughters, and Mr Elliot would be first and Charles, his wife, and Mrs Clay would follow after.
"What a pity you are yet in mourning and cannot dance, Cousin," Elizabeth, as she moved to greet her cousin.
"It is a great pity," Mr Elliot replied, bowing over her hand. "But although I do not attend, I count myself privileged to be able to convey you tonight. And may I say, Cousin Elizabeth, that you are looking particularly beautiful. That gown is perfection itself. But ... I do not see Miss Anne."
Miss Anne was caught in her bedchamber, waiting for Elise to finish the final adjustments to her apparel. At last the woman stepped back and surveyed her handiwork with a critical, yet satisfied eye.
"So much as your mother!" she sighed. "So beautiful! You lack only ... a ... a ... (Comment dit-on cela en anglais?) Ah! A fan, Mademoiselle Anne. You have no fan."
"It does not matter, Elise. I do not need one, truly." Anne reached up to finger her unfamiliarly elegant hair style. "I should go down; the others will be waiting." Anne was now feeling more anxious than beautiful. She gingerly made her way to the door, mindful of the arrangement of her skirts.
"Have no worry for spoiling the robe, Mademoiselle Anne, Elise called. "The soiree you enjoy. And you will danse, no? And perhaps ... find a husband, eh?"
Anne merely smiled and opened the door. "Bonsoir," Elise.
"Bonsoir, Mademoiselle." As the door swung shut, Elise turned and began to tidy Anne╠s dressing table. "Dieu sait ce qui╠il en sera,*" she whispered. "Annette, ma chere ... God alone, He knows."
Anne descended the stairs as quickly as she dared, carefully holding her skirts with one hand while the other gripped the railing. If only her father was not angered by her tardiness! She could hope for the best but the situation did not look very promising. By the sounds of the voices, she could tell that the others were standing in the entry hall -- waiting for her. Beneath the heavy Elliot necklace, Anne╠s heart was racing.
Just as she reached the final landing, William Elliot chanced to look up. He caught his breath in wonder.
"Dear G-d," he whispered. "She is ... amazing!" His heartfelt exclamation drew the attention of another.
"Ah yes, the Elliot sapphires," Sir Walter crowed, as he followed the direction of Mr Elliot╠s gaze. "I do not believe our Anne has worn them before. They make you look pretty, my dear," he called, "very pretty indeed."
Sir Walter turned again to Mr Elliot. "I believe all is now in readiness. Not too early and not too late. Splendid! Shall we depart, then?"
And so, with the usual bustle which accompanies such an undertaking, the baronet and his two eldest daughters were conveyed to the assembly rooms by Mr Elliot. Their cousin was graciousness itself, going even so far as to let down the steps of his carriage himself, with a particular smile for Anne.
It was with great interest that William Elliot watched the threesome disappear into the crowd at the entrance. Truly there was no one else like Anne! Had not Smith╠s wife said so all those years ago? No other woman was so elegant and yet so truthful, so beautiful and yet kind, so truly good as Anne.
William had debated between the sisters for weeks and weeks; he had first favoured one and then the other. But tonight his opinion solidified into a definite, binding decision: Anne alone was worthy of him. Anne would become his next wife.
It really is too bad that I must waste precious time with the Musgroves and Mrs Clay, he thought, as he reentered the carriage for the trip back to Camden Place. To leave his lovely cousin alone at such an event now seemed intolerable. I may not be able to dance, he decided. But I may certainly attend and be company for Anne!
It is well not to be too early, Patrick McGillvary mused, as he checked the clock and then calmly poured himself another glass of madeira. He strolled over to the full-length mirror and took in his reflection. The dress uniform was of the latest cut; the gold braid and decorations for heroic service glinted in the soft candlelight. He was beginning to wonder what colour the elusive Miss Elliot would be wearing this time when a knock sounded on the door.
"Come," he called.
"Admiral, sir," said the man who entered. "A gentleman of the Marines has come. Shall I bring him up?"
McGillvary frowned. Such was life in the Admiralty; time and again Whitehall had proven that 'business before pleasure╠ was no idle slogan.
"No, I╠ll be down directly, Wilson," he replied crisply. "Put the Marine in the blue salon; I╠ll see him there. And Wilson. Don╠t forget to feed him."
After the orders had been presented and signed over, McGillvary headed for his office on the main level of the mansion. Two footmen with lamps were waiting in the hallway when he got there. The Admiral unlocked the door, they quickly lit the candles in the room, and left. McGillvary locked the door behind them.
"Orders, orders," he muttered, as moved to take his seat behind the massive oaken desk. The wine glass he set beside the blotter. " 'Every man must do his duty,╠ " he quoted, and he opened the packet with a slight grimace. "I wonder who it is this time." As he began to read, a frown creased McGillvary╠s rugged face.
"Good G-d!" he swore softly, and ran a hand through his russet hair. "I╠ve not seen the dear boy for, what, three years? And now, this." McGillvary rose from his chair and took a turn about the room. The news, though not unexpected, was actually quite good for all involved -- except for the unlucky Captain appointed to the cruise.
Well, he╠s the best man for the job, McGillvary thought grimly, as he pulled the bell to summon Wilson. But something like this should be told in person. I╠ll do it over dinner. Tomorrow.
By the time the man╠s knock sounded at the door, the orders had been stowed in the hidden vault in the wall. McGillvary exited the room and relocked the door, while issuing his own set of orders.
"Wilson, I shall be travelling to Plymouth this evening, quite late. Please see to the arrangements. I╠ll be staying no more than two nights. And I need civilian clothes, in addition to the uniform; nothing conspicuous." He then checked his timepiece. "I╠ll be leaving for the Assembly within the quarter-hour. Any questions?"
And before Wilson had finished the requisite "No, Admiral. Very good, Admiral," Patrick McGillvary was halfway down the hall.
It took longer than I expected, but it has happened. Anne sighed and silently smoothed her gloves. I suppose I am on my own until Charles and Mary arrive. She had entered the Assembly Rooms with her father and Elizabeth, but after a myriad of introductions and distracting exchanges, both of them were nowhere to be seen. Anne searched the crowd for glimpse of Elizabeth╠s golden gown -- but carefully, for it would not do to appear anxious. Her own lack of height was an hindrance to this task. To Anne╠s eyes, there was a staggering number of people present -- and more were continuing to arrive at every moment.
If only I had waited for the second trip with Charles and Mary, she thought. But Anne knew this would have been impossible, as well as impolitic. Propriety required that she be placed beside her father -- and had she decided against this, Mrs Clay would gladly have taken her empty seat. To allow Penelope Clay enter the Assembly Rooms on the arm of Sir Walter Elliot was absolutely unthinkable! Anne took a deep breath and resolved not dwell anymore on her present isolation; she would simply wait for Charles and Mary.
After some time, Anne gave up looking for them. Her sister was well known for last minute mishaps and delays; obviously something had gone wrong. Poor Mary, she thought, as surveyed the elegantly-clad ladies and gentlemen who paraded past. Without thinking much about it, Anne allowed herself to be carried along by crowd into the brilliantly lit Ballroom.
The music had drawn her there, for by this time the dancing was well underway. The couples were moving through the figures of a country dance; its hauntingly beautiful tune made her heart swell. Sometimes sweet and melodic, sometimes melancholy, these country dances were especially beloved to Anne. An opening in the crowd allowed her to watch the long line of dancers as they wound their way through the intricate patterns of the dance.
I have not forgotten ... It has not been so long ... This observation caused Anne to sigh as the ladies and gentlemen gilded past. The orchestra played a few bars more and then the dance was over. As the couples left the floor, Anne turned away. It was then that she heard a gasp of recognition from someone quite close by.
"Miss Anne? Great Heaven! I thought it was you ..."
Anne looked to see who it was and a smile of relief spread across her face. "Good evening, Captain Benwick! Hello!" She was ridiculously pleased to find a friend.
"You are absolutely lovely tonight, Miss Anne," he said, with complete sincerity. "That gown could not be more perfect."
Anne╠s eyes twinkled. "May I say the same about you, sir? I mean, you are very fine ... and we are wearing nearly the same colour, are we not?"
"That shade of blue on a beautiful woman is a delight to a sailor╠s heart, Miss Anne," he grinned. "We do look well together! Er, I wonder. Would you do me the honour of standing up with me for the next?"
Anne felt her face grow warm. "Oh, ah, well," she said slowly, " ... you see, I ..." Again, she felt like a fool saying to him: I have quite given up dancing. To one who knew so much about her past, would not such words appear petulant and childish?
"Is it difficult for you?" he asked softly. The crowd had thinned and quieted somewhat; conversation was easier. "At one time I thought I would never be able to dance again -- after Fanny. But now ... er, unless you╠d rather not stand up with me, of course."
"Oh, no. It isn╠t that, Captain Benwick, it╠s just that ... I ..."
Anne felt ashamed at her ungraciousness. She was the worst of hypocrites too, for hadn╠t she danced with him this morning? But Benwick did not press the matter and instead began asking questions about the history of the Assembly Rooms. They moved about the Ballroom together, inspecting the wall hangings, the glittering crystal chandeliers and various architectural features.
Anne was glad to tell him all she knew, for she had been several years at a school in Bath. Eventually they stood together in the center of the room while he examined the ornate ceiling. She became caught up in trying to understand what had captured his attention there and did not hear the orchestra play the first few bars of the next dance. But she came to herself quickly enough when Captain Benwick stepped back and the music began in earnest. Anne╠s eyes grew wide, for he was pulling on his gloves! In his quiet, unassuming way, James Benwick had brought her onto the dance floor itself! In fact, a set had been forming around them as they stood there!
He made the nicest of bows and the couples began to move to the tune of a familiar country dance. Before Anne knew what was happening, it was time to make her curtsey with the other women; her feet then began to move of their own accord. Poor Anne did not know what to do. Short of causing a scene by leaving the set in the middle of the dance, she knew she was helplessly trapped.
Did Benwick know what he had done in forcing her hand? By the laughing sparkle in his eyes, Anne was absolutely certain that he knew.
"You are outrageous, Captain Benwick," she remarked tartly, at the earliest opportunity. "I have not danced this one for years! You will be well-served when I make a dreadful misstep and embarrass you!"
"I shall do worse," he replied laughingly. "Watch and see. You are a much more accomplished dancer than I!"
"You won╠t think so when I trample on your feet," she warned. "I heard what you said to poor Charles!"
"But you are not Charles! An important distinction, very much in your favour. Tramp away!" he grinned, and then they were parted.
"Slide left, one-two; turn, one-two," Anne counted under her breath. The movements were coming back as the melody swelled around her; the skirt of her gown flared beautifully as she danced. The soft shoes on her feet made her feel as though she were gliding on glass, as light as a feather. As she and Captain Benwick made their way down the line, Anne found it impossible not to smile, for an indescribable feeling was bubbling up within her. Did she dare to name it ... triumph?
And of course, once the dam had been breached, there was no going back for Anne Elliot. James Benwick danced the next with her, too, and when that dance was completed, he meekly led her to a chair against the wall. But before she could take her seat, who should appear but Charles Musgrove -- with an outstretched hand.
"You can╠t very well refuse your own brother, you know," Charles grinned. "Not after dancing with him!" And of course, he was perfectly right. She was duty-bound to dance twice with Charles. After that, Mr Rushworth came up. The words of refusal were on Anne╠s lips, but he looked so uncomfortable and was so anxiously friendly that she took pity on him. And once those dances were finished, Mr Turner showed up (in a satin suit of eye-popping orange), obviously expecting a dance. By this time, she had given up the fight. Miss Anne Elliot had obviously taken up dancing again and there was nothing to be done about it ... but dance!
This did not go unnoticed, of course. Mary arrived in the Ballroom in time to see Anne dancing her second with James Benwick. Mary stood openmouthed for a moment or two, then she rushed over to Elizabeth and began plucking at her sleeve.
"Elizabeth!" she hissed excitedly. "Elizabeth, look!"
Miss Elliot was in a very good humour this evening and did not give Mary the crushing snub she deserved. She politely excused herself from the conversation and turned to face her sister.
"It╠s Anne!" Mary whispered loudly, barely able to contain herself. "I cannot believe it! Elizabeth, Anne is actually dancing!"
Elizabeth╠s gaze travelled across the room. "Well, well. We do not need to guess what this means, do we?"
"Er, we don╠t?" Mary blinked twice and then twitched at Elizabeth╠s sleeve. "What does it mean?"
"Obviously, this Benwick is going to be our new brother, Mary. Isn╠t that too bad." Elizabeth shook her head as she watched the couple finish the dance. "Anne had better taste in sailors the first time around. And it was all for nothing, for he preferred a Musgrove in the end. What a farce!"
"What are you talking about?" Mary demanded. "Who prefers a Musgrove?"
"A bit of ancient history, dear, quite before your time," Elizabeth replied loftily. "I see your poet is coming this way, Mary. Heavens, has that man no taste? Best to snatch a dance with him while you may, dear!" And with that, Elizabeth moved off, leaving Mary to puzzle over the identity of 'he.╠
*After Elise sent Anne off to the ball, she says: "God knows what will come of it."
Author╠s note: The scene with Charles Musgrove and James Benwick working on the waltz has its feet firmly planted in a real life event. I sincerely wish to thank Pamela T for relating the hilarious story of her son and his friend as they practiced their ballroom dancing "moves" for their prom. "I thought I was the woman this time!" is their wonderful line, not mine! ~LL
Chapter 7, Part 2
"All alone, Penelope dear? Has the Baronet deserted you?"
Mrs Clay jumped to hear a man╠s voice so close by. She turned to see who it was and then said nothing. Mr Elliot was not exactly in favour with her at the moment. He had kept the Musgroves and her waiting for nearly an hour, while he went back to his rooms to change into ballroom attire.
"Ah, well," William Elliot continued amicably, after a sidelong glance at her. "That is to be expected, unfortunately. You are a bit out of your depth in this crowd, my dear."
"You have the oddest notions, Mr Elliot," she was stung into replying. "Deserted, indeed! Sir Walter has merely stepped away to procure a glass of punch, so you need not fear for me."
She eyed him carefully and added, "Besides, I take great pleasure in watching the young ladies dance. Miss Anne seems to be enjoying herself with that nice Captain Benwick. I cannot recall seeing her in such spirits." Satisfied that her shaft had hit its mark, Penelope Clay directed her attention to the dancers. Mr Elliot grumbled something inarticulate and stalked away.
"I thank you for the dance, Mr Turner," Anne said politely. "But I fear I must decline your invitation for the next. I am quite exhausted."
Tino Turner╠s slender brows knit into a frown. "Gracious, is not the next a waltz? Bless me, Miss Anne, I have been abominably rude! For I have promised that to dear Miss Carteret!" He immediately scurried away, leaving Anne to stand alone on the dance floor.
"He cannot make up with fine words what he lacks in manners," a man╠s voice grumbled beside her. "Would you like some punch, Miss Anne?"
"Yes, thank you," she replied and gratefully took Captain Benwick╠s proffered hand. "And then I would dearly love to sit down. I have been dancing for ever so long! And the crowd! It has grown even larger!" She kept hold of his hand as they threaded their way through the throng. It would never do to get lost.
"Now, there╠s a man I╠ve been wanting to see! Commander Benwick!"
James Benwick halted in his tracks to hear himself so called. "Admiral McGillvary, sir," he gasped. "Er, how do you do?"
"A merry chase you╠ve led me on, Commander," McGillvary grinned, as he extracted himself from the crowd. "I nearly had to send to Whitehall for your address! And I discover we are neighbours!"
"A ... chase, sir? Ah, may I present Miss Anne Elliot. Miss Anne, this is Admiral Patrick McGillvary."
"Elliot!" Patrick McGillvary gave Anne a bright look as he made his bow. He was suddenly very interested in continuing the conversation. "A pleasure, Miss Elliot. Your friend here had me turning Bath upside down last week for his address."
McGillvary then turned to Benwick. "I had no idea you were so well-connected, Commander. Singled out by a Vicountess -- and did you attend the concert, by the way? She was most insistent about that ticket -- and living in the Wrenwyth house, of all places!"
"I hope I did not inconvenience you, sir."
"Of course not," McGillvary laughed. "Starkweather handled the whole thing. The McGillvarys are known as the Irish connection in Bath, you know. It was natural that she would write to me for help. But I had no idea you were related to Mortimer Wrenwyth! He and my grandfather were great friends, Miss Elliot," he said to her. "Once they got past the surveying mistake, that is."
"Chauntecleer was built just over the boundary of the McGillvary property, Miss Anne, while both gentlemen were absent from the country," Benwick explained. "Chaucer Court was supposed to be a private drive, not a street."
"And a master of diplomacy was Wrenwyth, Miss Elliot! For he led my grandfather to see it as a great benefit! He even had a gate cut in the back hedge. My grandfather used to nip down for a game of chess whenever they were both in town. Great lovers of the game, the pair of them. Are you fond of chess, Commander? Perhaps we could revive the tradition."
"I am, but I╠ve not played much since leaving Went..., er, the Laconia, sir."
"Ah! And what do you hear from the old boy? Any news?"
"Miss Elliot and I attended his wedding two fortnights ago, sir."
"What!" Patrick McGillvary was thunderstruck at this. "Frederick is married? Frederick Wentworth, the despair of hostesses, the most gun-shy of the Eligibles? This is hard to believe!"
"Er, the society of the Navy is loaded with predatory females, Miss Anne," Benwick explained. "But our friend eluded capture time and again. He is famous for his distrust of women."
"Predatory females! Eluded capture!" McGillvary chuckled. "Gad, Benwick, you have a way with words! I╠d forgotten. So," he said thoughtfully, "our Frederick has married at last. Will wonders never cease? I wish him joy. And you, too, Commander, eh? Good evening."
"Good gracious," Anne said, as Admiral McGillvary disappeared into the crowd. "He is your neighbor?"
"My great aunt╠s neighbor," Benwick corrected. "And an exceptionally close friend of Wentworth╠s. It is curious that he should show an interest in me."
"He is very handsome," Anne observed.
"Isn╠t he. But unlike Wentworth, he has no fear of women. Nor they of him, which I think they should. Now, what do you say about finding that punch and a chair?"
She agreed most heartily and the refreshment table was gained at last. But as Anne reached out to grasp the glass cup, she immediately sensed something was wrong. She was holding the cup in her left hand; did she not always use her right? Anne glanced down at it and experienced a shock. For her right hand was firmly clasping Captain Benwick╠s! She had been standing there all that while, conversing with that Admiral while holding Benwick╠s hand!
So that is why the Admiral looked at me so! He thinks ... Anne disengaged her gloved hand from her friend╠s as nonchalantly as she could and took hold of her cup with both hands. Don╠t act like a goose! It was nothing! she lectured herself, as she took a sip of the punch. The crowd was very dense. I doubt that anyone saw me acting like a ... oh dear! Like a ... Predatory Female! And perhaps because of pent-up anxiety or perhaps for some other reason, this thought struck Anne as incredibly funny.
"My dear boy, what have you found to drink at that refreshment table? Vinegar?"
"Mmmm?" William Elliot turned to look fully at his friend.
"Oh, no you don╠t!" Colonel Wallis chuckled. "That innocent face is very well but I saw how you were looking at her. You╠re as sour as a dog with a burr up his ... er, backside!" As his companion said nothing, the Colonel chatted amicably on.
"So, this is the sailor I╠ve heard so much about. You have made a mull of things, Elliot, if she prefers him to you." He threw his friend a mischievous look. "And perhaps I am mistaken, but I believe I saw her holding his hand a while ago."
"Do shut up, Wallis!" William Elliot snapped. "Or, barring that, take yourself off and do something helpful for a change! Dance with her, for G-d╠s sake! Get her away from him!"
"What an excellent idea! I╠d not thought of that. Though it won╠t be easy to do. He watches her like a hawk. Listen, Elliot," Colonel Wallis said, more seriously. "Let me give you a little advice: ride lightly over heavy ground. This battle may be better fought another day."
"Another day," Mr Elliot repeated. His eyes never left Anne Elliot. "I have every intention of fighting, Wallis, another day and every day, if necessary. I do not believe in surrender."
"Good man," Wallis agreed. "And don╠t forget, you are fighting on two fronts. A tricky bit of business, that." The Colonel nodded significantly at another couple. "I believe your Mrs Clay has nearly convinced the man to waltz with her, or so it appears to me. Perhaps you should intervene?"
"Good G-d! That woman is relentless!"
"There is no rest for the wicked, Elliot," Colonel Wallis called softly, as his friend strode away.
"It is very late," Anne sighed happily as she sank into the chair Benwick had found for her. It was such a pleasure to finally be able to rest her feet. "Or should I say it is early? I am not accustomed to these hours."
"Nor am I." James Benwick consulted his timepiece, frowned at it, and with great reluctance turned to face her. "Miss Anne, I hate to say this, but I fear I must bid you adieu for the present."
"Adieu? Oh, surely not! Perhaps it is better said, a bientot, sir?"
"Est-ce que vous parlez francais?" he smiled. "Alas, adieu it must be. I have been called to London on business tonight, Miss Anne. I was meaning to tell you this morning when I came, but other things drove it from my mind."
"Tonight? Do you mean you must leave now?" There was a slight catch to Anne╠s voice. "Shall you be gone long?"
"That I cannot say. But I shall return, Miss Anne, as quickly as I am able."
"I hope so, for we have the Poetry Group to manage."
"Er, I╠ve spoken with Mr Turner about that. He╠s not at all keen on leading the discussion in my absence," he said. "And as Lady Dalrymple will be leaving for London herself in less than a fortnight (and he is to go with her), it may be that we have held our final meeting for the season."
"When I return, I hope to bring some very good news ..."
"Then you must promise to call as soon as you arrive and appraise me of it."
"Aye, aye, Ma╠am," he smiled. "It will be a great pleasure to obey that order. I bid you a good evening, then, and ..."
"Aha!" a cheerful voice crowed. "There you are! I╠ve been looking everywhere for you!" Charles Musgrove disentangled himself from the crowd and came to greet them; his eyes were bright with excitement. "She liked it, Anne!" he grinned. "The waltzing, I mean! Did you see us? I am quite the clever husband today, thanks to you and Benwick."
"Musgrove, if you are anything, you are a very brave man," James Benwick replied with a smile. "Not one in ten thousand would have had the courage to dance on the strength of one lesson. Miss Anne does not waltz with me but perhaps you may tempt her to try. Good night."
"Good ... night," Charles repeated. "Now where╠s he off to? Ah well. I say, Anne, that Army fellow, Wallis, has claimed Mary for the next set. How about standing up with me?"
"Oh, Charles ... now?"
"Nobody will say anything about a brother dancing with his sister! Please, Anne? You wouldn╠t be so rag-mannered as to refuse, would you?
Anne looked at her brother-in-law╠s smiling face; he was so happy to have pleased his wife. Oh, what does it matter, she thought recklessly. My feet will ache just as much with one more dance as not. Anne held out her hand to him. "Very well, Brother Charles," she smiled. "I am pleased to accept your invitation."
As the Assembly drew near its conclusion, Elizabeth Elliot was certain of one thing: her family╠s move to Bath was the best decision her father had ever made -- for this evening had been an unqualified success in every way. Never had she been so sought out and admired; not even her best seasons in London could match this. She had been introduced to scores of the noble and well-born, ladies and gentlemen who did not frequent the card parties given by her father╠s antiquated friends. She had never once lacked for a dancing partner, in fact, she had been hard pressed to choose among so many. It was a wonderful night.
Elizabeth reached down to tenderly stroke the fabric of her precious gown. In the light of the glittering chandeliers, the silk had a golden sheen, just as she had hoped it would. Tonight she felt golden, too -- as though perfect happiness was at last within her grasp.
At the moment, she was standing with Miss Carteret in the Ballroom and together they observed the crowd. Very close beside Elizabeth were two talkative young women, both painfully ill-dressed in the very latest fashion. Elizabeth listened to their chatter with a smile of amusement. They were discussing the merits of a cluster of gentlemen on the opposite side of the room, men who were much too sophisticated for girls just out of the schoolroom.
"Oh, but he is so handsome in that uniform! I could just die," sighed the blonde, who was clad in an ugly gown of white taffeta. "Mother says he was an awful rake while his wife was alive, but I don╠t care. He╠s a widow now, that╠s the important thing. Unmarried."
"He╠s Irish," warned her companion. "And you know what that means, Flora! It is simply too tragic for words!"
"Oh, I don╠t know about that," Elizabeth spoke up, in a very friendly way. She was in a generous frame of mind tonight and not inclined to be stuffy. "Miss Carteret and I do not think being Irish is such a bad thing, do we Miss Carteret?"
"No, indeed," came the answer.
The two girls stared at Elizabeth in awe. "You are Miss Elliot, are you not?" the brunette managed to gasp.
"I am," Elizabeth answered, not unnaturally flattered by their youthful worship. "Tell me, which of those gentlemen is your Irishman?"
"The Admiral," the blonde sighed, "... with the moustache ... and the beau-ti-ful smile."
"And you cannot forget the dimples," added the other wistfully. "And his pots and pots of money."
"Dear me, dimples, too? A paragon of male beauty!" Elizabeth╠s eyes twinkled as she examined the group of men, who most obligingly were too intent on their conversation to notice the admirers. "Alas, he must have gone away, for I cannot see anyone by that description. But you know, my dears, a man of the Navy who lacks a title is most certainly of low birth ... and is not at all suitable for you. No matter how delightful he is to ... look ... at."
Elizabeth froze. For as she spoke a uniformed man with a truly splendid form turned to face them. He had a generous brown moustache and an unforgettable smile. There could be no mistake; he was the man from the Concert.
"There he is," the brunette whispered reverently.
"Do you ... happen to know his name?" Elizabeth asked carefully. Her indifferent tone concealed a raging curiosity.
"McGillicutty," the blonde sighed. "Admiral Patrick McGillicutty."
"Oh ... dear!" Elizabeth gurgled, barely able to contain her glee at such an odious, low-born name. "That is too bad, certainly."
"You do not like the name, Miss Elliot?"
"Well ..." Elizabeth smiled wickedly. "I would ... if I was seeking to marry and set up a shop in a back alley near Cheap Street! Although, I suppose 'Carbuncle╠ would be a worse name," she admitted. "I mean, really. 'Mrs McGillicutty╠! Can you imagine being called such a thing?"
"No, I suppose not," the blonde sighed sadly. The two girls eventually wandered off and Elizabeth was left to gloat over the beautiful Admiral. One day he would no doubt grow as stout as Augustus Rushworth and lose most of his wavy hair -- and all he would have was the name!
She stole another look at him (for he was very handsome), and suffered a shock, for he was now looking directly at her. Across the crowded room, their eyes met -- and his twinkled. Elizabeth hurriedly looked away. She was not one to back down easily, but this was too much!
As she struggled to keep her features composed, the words from yesterday╠s poem sounded clearly in her mind:
Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine ...
Good heavens! Elizabeth╠s thoughts were in a whirl. Is this what that poet meant about the eyes? She set her teeth and willed her heart to stop hammering, but it would not. Her eyes also rebelled and sought his face; no matter how she tried, she could not tear her gaze from Admiral McGillicutty.
And then, he smiled. Unmistakably, he smiled -- at her. Elizabeth╠s face grew warm, though the blush only served to heighten her beauty. She watched as one transfixed: without looking away, he handed his wine glass to his surprised companion and began to move toward her. From his waistcoat pocket he produced a pair of gloves; as he crossed the room, he began to put them on.
He is going to ask me to dance! Elizabeth was thrown into a panic by such boldness. What could she do? Very faintly she heard the beginning strains of a waltz -- the last dance of the evening. I cannot waltz with him, I cannot! The Admiral was nearer now, he was almost close enough to speak. Elizabeth finally lowered her gaze, she was trembling too badly to do anything else. She was just beginning to compose her words of acceptance when another came bounding up.
"Hello-hullo, Miss Elliot!" a familiar voice crowed. "It╠s the last dance of the evening -- and here I am! Right on time!"
"Mr Rushworth," Elizabeth said blankly. She kept her eyes averted and did not look up.
"You promised the last dance of the evening to me, remember?" Mr Rushworth leaned over her with undisguised eagerness; he did not bother to lower his voice. "I greased the palm of the music leader, so we╠re to have a waltz! Isn╠t that jolly?"
Elizabeth studied the hand Mr Rushworth held out; it was far too chubby to fit properly in the glove he wore.
"I did promise, yes," she said softly and placed her hand in his. With a grace she did not feel, she repeated the words she would have said to Admiral McGillicutty: "Thank you, sir, for the kind invitation. I do accept it."
Though she kept her eyes on the ground and never again looked at the Admiral, Elizabeth was ashamed of herself. She had made him no promise, yet it felt as if she had broken her word. And why was she feeling such disappointment? He was unworthy of her in every way! But deep in her heart Elizabeth knew that the low-born Admiral would waltz beautifully, just as she knew that Mr Rushworth would not.
The ride back to Camden Place that night was a quiet one. Anne, who had smiled for so much of the evening was silent and thoughtful. Elizabeth frowned as she tried to forget the bumptious waltz with Mr Rushworth. Sir Walter leaned back against the squabs and fell asleep, with his mouth open. Only Mr Elliot was cheerful, smiling into the darkness, though none of the others in the carriage knew why.
The candles burned brightly and gave the room a warm and cosy glow. Rosamond made a circuit and snuffed several. Domestic comfort was not the ambiance she wished; her intentions were best carried out in near darkness. She looked about and was satisfied with the results.
The mantel clock struck the quarter-hour and she hurried to her dressing table. She wished to be perfectly arranged when he entered.
A whisper of a noise at the door told her that Randwick had disposed of Levant for the evening. This assured them that the rest of the night was theirs to do with as they pleased.
She sat painfully still in anticipation. She could barely hear him, but still did not look. His hands were on her shoulders and his lips at the nape of her neck before she realised.
"Are you surprised?"
"Not really, but anticipation can be as stimulating as surprise."
He knelt beside her, and brought a hand at her waist. "The old boy is down for the count and we are free."
Her eyes gleamed. "Yes, more than you realise."
"Oh? How might that be?"
"Ian Demarest's men are here in Shropshire." She picked up a scrap of paper and offered it to him.
He waved the paper away. "When will it be?" His hand moved from her waist to her neck. He began to pull her closer to himself.
"Monday night," she breathed.
His fingers were now in her hair. "How?" he whispered.
"We do not wish to know that. All we must do is send him out the ... " She consulted the note. "Cider Press Road, towards Glencoe, near dusk. They will do the rest." With the news, he grew more insistent. She resisted him just enough to keep him under her control.
"Mm. They will do all the work," he said, as they looked at one another in the mirror. "We shall have all the pleasure." He took her by the chin and brought her mouth to his.
She pulled reluctantly away. "Pleasure later, Daniel. We must think of something that will give him cause to head off to Glencoe Monday evening."
"Must we begin to plan this very minute?" he choked. "The absolute last thing I wish to think on is Pollard."
Rising, she allowed her hand to glide across his cheek. "Yes, now."
Randwick hung his head. Resigned to the circumstances, he hoisted himself into the vacated chair. "Before we arrange the details of Pollard's end, might we have a little something -- I am famished."
As she watched the fire, she mused that perhaps she had been mistaken, Randwick's appetites for intimacy and domestic comfort seemed equally strong ... and easily interchangeable. She touched the bell, gratified her recent cloistering had not dulled her significant feminine powers.
Later, after Tom had sulkt his way through serving them wine and cheese and bread, they returned to their previous conversation.
"I will not miss the dull fare of the Bramford cellars, that is certain." Randwick drained his wine and poured another. "I will enjoy getting back to cooks who know what to do with a piece of beef, not just roast it to leather."
Rosamond folded her napkin and said, "Those are trifles, it is the society I miss. The social diversions of London will be a welcome relief and we will arrive just in time to enjoy it all."
He wiped his mouth and laughed a little. "Now Rosa, you have had every opportunity in the world to socialise with the finest of Crown Hill Society. You are the one who chose to snub them, remember?"
"Yes," she mocked, "an opportunity I am sure to regret all of my days!
Draining the second glass, Randwick brought it to the table with a thump. "By Jove! I forgot to tell you the latest about our Pollard."
"What of him?"
"Oh, he has been a bad boy!"
She smirked. "How bad?"
"He has been pursuing that Wentworth girl, the one with the Navy man for a husband."
"Surely not!" she leant back in surprise. "He does not really imagine that he can win her!"
"No, no! Though I am sure that was the opportunity presented ... Anywise, he has the ninny convinced that he is prepared, at any moment, to chuck her, the Rector, rector's wife, kits, cats, sacks and rats all out into the shrubbery unless she gives him a sizeable wad of cash! He is convinced that the captain would have left her well-off for the duration and he intends as much as possible of the ill-gotten prize to make its way into his pocket."
"I am sure that Pollard will try for more, though he will not succeed."
Randwick reached over and chaffed her bare arm. "No normal man would refuse were it offered, but why are you so set that she will not succumb to his ... considerable charms?"
"I heard him say that she is from Somerset. If I recall correctly, it contains no cities of note. It is all countryside. The faithful tillers of the soil breed their daughters to faithfulness, just as they breed some horses to the hunt, or," she drawled, "to the plow."
He reached over and took a bit of bread from her plate. "I was raised in the country. I would be interested to know, to which you think I was bred."
She took hold of his hand, "No question, Daniel, you were most definitely born to the hunt." Taking the bread from his fingers, she put it in her own mouth and smiled at him. When she was finished, she smiled more widely. "Perhaps we might use this to our advantage."
He stood and tossed the napkin down. "I will also not miss that lazy brute, Tom. Does he never do anything without being told?" The fire was very nearly out and Randwick began to tend it. "So, how might the guileless Mrs Wentworth be used?"
Rosamond joined him at the hearth. "If Pollard were to receive word that Mrs Wentworth was to be on the road to Glencoe -- at dusk -- Monday ... "
A handful of dry twigs had caught and now crackled in the fire box. Randwick stopped for a moment. "Yes, this could be very helpful to us." He continued to put wood on. "Levant is planning to inform her Sunday that he wants the money -- oh, and how is this for brass -- he intends to give her a note ... in Church! Right under the nose of God and the entire congregation!" He laughed as he sat back from his ministrations to the fire.
The warmth of it, combined with the surge of her active mind, created a flush in Rosamond. She leant into Randwick and said, "This is perfect for us. However, nothing can be in writing -- nothing that could lead anyone to suspect us -- but you could easily deliver a message."
"Good G*d," he exclaimed turning to her. "Why would I get mixed up in Pollard's poor-fisted theatrics?" He turned back to the fire. "Besides, do we really wish to send the girl into whatever brawl Demarest has planned for Levant?"
She drew back. "You do have a heart! Or at the very least, your conscience has not been completely seared." He looked at her quickly and then back to the fire. "I am glad," she murmured. Lightly touching his hand, she continued, "Perhaps you will not treat me as others have. Anywise, we do not send Mrs Wentworth into the midst of the brawl, we bring her here."
"What? Why would we do that?"
"The money. With Poor Pollard meeting his maker, all that lovely money will, no doubt, go back into the Captain's, considerable account. All we must do is convince Pollard that it would be in his best interest to allow you to act as his intermediary. He will accept this notion for it feeds his delusions of importance -- "
" -- and that will give the silly old mongrel an audience, a sinner like Pollard likes to share tales of his debaucheries --" cried Randwick.
They were of the same mind! This sent a shiver down Rosamond's spine. "Yes and amen! Then he will think nothing of being sent off to Glencoe. He shall meet his fate and then we have the girl come here, leave the money with us -- "
He sidled closer to Rosamond. "We will be faithful to seeing it delivered to the proper hands -- ours!"
She touched his hand again. This time, she lingered. "I must say, Daniel, you are a clever man."
"More than you know, my dear." He took her hand and kissed it, then began an earnest pursuit of her lips.
The Sunday sermon had provided nothing to lift Louisa's spirits. Neither text nor hymns had been chosen that might give her comfort. When the family returned from church, she had immediately excused herself and gone straight to her room. A quiet afternoon with the family was the last thing she felt she could endure.
When her husband had been with her, Louisa had every reason in the world to be cheerful. His presence alone had supported her efforts at maturity. His surreptitious smiles during familiar evening conversations had easily carried her through. Now, without him, with only the company of her brother and sister-in-law, sustaining her pretension to adulthood was daily more difficult.
The days at the Rectory passed slowly. Unlike Catherine, Louisa had no baby of her own to anticipate. No little clothes to mend and make over. No one called on her to bring little bundles of things deemed useful with a baby. Unlike the Rector, Louisa had no parishioners to call upon. She had nowhere to go that would take her out of the house and into the world. For her, going out into town, or just out for a turn about the yard seemed dangerous and an open invitation for a certain person to make an appearance. Louisa counted even Mrs Graham more fortunate than herself. At least the woman had chores and duties to occupy her time. The young Mrs Wentworth had proven herself incompetent when it came to making tea, and the previous afternoon, when she had offered to feed the chickens, it had taken Graham half and hour to gather three that had escaped. It was depressing to think she was such a failure at only nineteen.
Louisa had changed her clothes and took her wool shawl from the wardrobe. As she placed it around her shoulders, the self-pity that already surrounded her, found a new morsel upon which to chew.
After the service that morning, as she made her way out of the church, Mr Randwick had approached her. When he had come upon her, she had been relieved to find him alone, without Mr Levant. The young man had been very polite and asked if he might speak with her privately. He had taken great care to find a place both quiet and well within the view of anyone who might care to look.
"I know how a small parish can be ... it would not do to bring you or your brother-in-law any embarrassment ... Levant has told me of his demands concerning the Rector ... it sickens me to be a part of this ... I am personally obliged to Levant ... he will be expecting you at the Hall at six o'clock, after dark ... he knows that you will be generous ... if I might help you in any way, I am at your service ... I am sorry ... "
With a touch of the hat, Mr Randwick was gone and she was left with the odious message. It left her sick with nerves that she was expected to accomplish so much all alone.
First, she would have to get the money before the man left for the day. She would need directions to Bramford Hall and depending upon how far it was, she would have to hide herself until the appointed time. After enduring another meeting with Levant, she would be forced to find her way home in the dark. There would be questions about her whereabouts, for surely she would be discovered missing in all that time. All of it was foreign and frightening, but she was the only person who could keep Pollard Levant at bay.
If only I had gone home to Uppercross, she thought to herself. I would know nothing of their troubles and would certainly not be in this predicament.
As she turned, the little wooden box her husband had given her caught her eye. Its inlaid tulips cheerful as always as it rested upon the top of the dresser. Louisa took it to the bed and dumped out its contents.
The necklace of blue beads, which had been the true present, fell to the bed while all the pieces of his first letter scattered themselves about the comforter.
As she took the pieces one by one, she glanced mechanically at each and placed it in its proper spot. The letter had become like a much played with puzzle. Though the challenge was gone, as it was memorised, it still held a fascination for the owner.
Even after her violent out-burst, and her claims of hatred of her husband, she had faithfully gathered the pieces and brought them to her bed chamber. She had laid them out, in their proper order and gazed on it for quite some time. A few pieces were missing. A word or two here and there gone. But, she knew the text regardless.
As Louisa picked up the largest piece -- nearly the whole bottom half -- she spontaneously began to recite:
" ... and I will send the letters whenever the opportunities present themselves. Though, the mails are beholden to no one or no thing, not even marital affection. Take care of yourself and give my regards to all. Your loving husband, F.W.
"Marital affection ... and loving husband," she murmured aloud. "Do I truly have his affection? And is he a loving husband?" In light of what she had heard, she could not be certain.
She gathered the pieces and placed them back in the mahogany box. The box was then placed precisely back on the dresser. She leant against the wardrobe and sighed. After she had first heard the heart-breaking conversation, her thoughts had been jumbled and chaotic. Now, after three days, she had exhausted her emotions and was able to think more clearly. Having given careful consideration of her husband and Miss Anne's behaviour, Louisa felt confident that she knew precisely what had happened between the two of them, both in the past and the present.
Again, she cast an eye towards the box, hoping perhaps the contents would change and become more clear-cut, putting all her doubts to rest.
After a while, Louisa opened the wardrobe, reached in and took out her husband's linen smock-frock. She wrapped it around herself, and took tentative comfort from its illusion of his presence. However, it was not long before her thoughts went back down the well-worn road.
"Miss Anne Elliot," she mouthed.
The more she thought, the more confident she became in her conclusions concerning Miss Anne, and the more disheartened she became by her conclusions to do with her husband.
"Are you certain she understood? While I see your point in not giving her a note, what if the silly thing forgets the instructions?" Levant asked, as he followed Randwick from place to place around the sitting room.
"Do not worry, she understood perfectly. The instructions were not all that complicated you know." He finally took his ease by the fire. Before Levant could advance the conversation, he said, "And you know Pol, I found her not at all distrustful -- I believe her to have quite an open temperament."
Levant had been examining his reflection in a silver vase. "Uh, well, of course she'd not be skittish with you, my boy. She recognises you as the harmless lad you are."
Randwick smiled broadly, "Yes, I am the personification of innocence." Taking a step closer to Levant, who had lost himself in the mirror-like finish of a vase, he said with an air of fellowship, "She, uh, seemed very pleased -- that you wished to see her -- privately."
Levant took in Randwick's remarks and manner; twigged his meaning and continued primping. "Did she now?" he smirked.
Randwick kept his countenance. "Yes, yes she did. It think it safe to say that Mrs Wentworth is looking very much forward to meeting you Monday afternoon. But, uh," he paused, "is not five a bit early? There is still enough day light for the two of you to be observed."
A scowl came over Levant's face. "Yeah, still light enough ... " he had paused in his self-study.
"Might I suggest," Randwick leant closer as Levant paused to listen, "there is an abandoned house, near the Ludlow fingerpost. It is right on Cider Press Road, the route she will have to take from town. It is quite private -- from what I have noticed of it --"
"Yes," Levant drawled, "I know precisely where you mean. That would be just the thing -- little rustic hide-away ... " His voice faded. Taking a final swipe through his hair, he turned to Randwick and said, "Yes my boy, that is the place -- private, yet close enough to the road that she will have no trouble in seeing me." He stared off and began to plan for Monday night.
With a hearty nod, meant to encourage, Randwick gave many appropriate statements of envy and leering expressions. After Levant had left the room, Daniel turned to gaze at the fire. As he watched, he wondered if there might be any opportunity to inform Mrs Louisa Wentworth from what he had just saved her.
Mrs Louisa Wentworth had retired for the night. When asked, she had assured her sister-in-law that she was not sick, merely tired and would go straight to bed after eating a quiet supper in her room. That had satisfied Mrs Catherine Wentworth and gotten the younger woman the privacy she craved.
Sleep was settling in when a carriage clattered by the house and woke her fully. Against her own natural inclination and feelings on the matter, Louisa began to think.
Again, as dispassionately as possible, Louisa reaffirmed the obvious -- Miss Anne had rejected Frederick.
"Miss Anne's manner was always courteous and proper in every way, but there was never a hint of excitement or curiosity about him ... and when the two of them were dining at Uppercross or met at the cottage, she never seemed comfortable. The poor thing ... even when we all were in Lyme, she chose the company of James Benwick over everyone else -- because of Frederick no doubt."
Louisa had finally washed his pillow slip, and so the scent was now of soap and not of her husband. Nonetheless, she sighed and snugged herself deep into it. "During our fight, he was adamant that he wished to marry the woman he had loved -- surely it was her."
She turned onto her back, still clutching the pillow. "What is there about him, that she refused him? She is not vain like her father ... but that would not matter for he is handsome ... he could give her every material thing, for he is rich. He is witty, and brilliant and kind ... what can be his failing that would cause her to refuse him?"
The same thoughts made their way through her mind again and again. Her only conclusion was that Miss Anne was privy to a moral flaw so abominable, she refused to attach herself to him. As this was the only possible explanation, what could this mean for her future?
As Louisa determined her husband dissolute in some manner, the Captain was preparing to dine with an old friend.
"Before we leave port, sir, it might be wise if I was to have another pair of breeches made up, perhaps even two. The harsh sun will have these unfit in no time," Michaelson stated.
"Yes, I think that best. As things are taking an inordinate amount of time, there should be no hurry. Another trifle to take up my time as I beg the Admiral to move on the Laconia" Wentworth muttered.
"Ya hat, sir."
The Captain examined himself in the mirror, "I hope McGillvary appreciates all the primping and fussing on his account."
"That will be all."
The keep opened his mouth to object. McGillvary held up his hand and said, "It is quite all right. My guest is the most punctual fellow I know and will be here directly. Bring the next course in half an hour." The keep touched his forelock and moved to exit. "And take the boy. We shan't need to be served." He gently propelled the boy in the direction of the door.
The table was spread and the wine was poured. McGillvary looked over the room and was satisfied with the hospitality of the Golden Knight. The smell of the buttery hake filets caught his nose and he hurried Wentworth in his mind.
Taking a post at the window, McGillvary caught sight of his guest just dismounting a chair. Checking the packet in his breast pocket one last time, he prepared to greet his friend.
"Captain Wentworth, sir."
"D*mn my eyes, Wentworth! If you have changed one iota, I will take vows right here and now!" McGillvary cried as he vigourously pumped the Captain's hand.
"It has only been three years, Admiral ... hardly an eternity."
"Sit," he said, showing him a seat. "True, but in our profession, three years can make all the difference in the world." Taking his own seat, he continued, "I understand congratulations are in order! Frederick Wentworth married! Women's hearts are breaking all over the globe -- mostly mothers who had hopes for a son-in-law with prospects like yours!"
Accepting a full glass, Wentworth said, "I hardly think there will be universal mourning. I never put myself out enough for hopes to be held very high."
"True," said McGillvary. "But, a marriageable post-captain is rare these days." After a drink, he asked, "So, is she the one?"
"The one? What do you mean?"
"I mean, is she the one who has kept you behaving like a monk all these years? You never said anything, but your behaviour has been that of a man engaged. You finally made good?"
The irony of the of McGillvary's assumption and his own situation was too galling. "Uh, no. The new Mrs Wentworth is a young woman I met while put ashore -- when I was visiting the Admiral and my sister. They took a house in Somerset and ... I assume you heard the news from him." Frederick hoped to steer the conversation in a more agreeable direction.
"Ha! George! I did dine with him last week. He never breathed a word about your marriage. He was too busy arguing the weaknesses of the latest appointments to the Home Office. No, it was Commander Benwick who informed me of the nuptials. We met at an assembly and he told me the happy news." He raised his glass in toast.
Wentworth raised his slightly in response. "I had heard he was in Bath. How is he? I have heard no news of him since my wedding."
"He looked very well. Very well indeed. He had a young woman with him. Don't recall her name. Very pretty, but rather grasping -- literally! She held on to him throughout the introductions -- the entire conversation in fact. I never thought of James Benwick as such a good catch!"
"That is good to hear. He lost his fianc╗ just last June. I had feared for his mind."
"Bad luck that." McGillvary drained his glass and poured another.
His callousness shocked Wentworth, but only a little. He had thought there would be some compassion, considering McGillvary had only recently lost his own wife. As the meal progressed, the personal conversation waned. Suddenly, it took a sharp turn to the professional.
"And how is work on the Laconia progressing?" McGillvary asked.
It surprised Wentworth that he would know anything about the Laconia or work being done on her. "Ah, not well at all. The wrights are as villainous as ever; taking my money and delivering only excuses. The Port Admiral is disinterested at best. The only endeavour that has born fruit has been recruitment, and that I have curtailed for lack of space to house the men."
"So, Locke hinders you," McGillvary said. It was unclear as to whether he was stating a fact, or asking a question. He looked past Wentworth and absently fingered the silver.
His friend's manner was most definitely professional and Wentworth was determined that he would have as much information concerning his ship as he was able to glean. "I said he was indifferent. His words, when I am able to meet with him, are proper and promising, but his actions are unsubstantial." He examined his friend. McGillvary was weighing something in his mind.
The Admiral leant forward and said, "What I tell you now must remain between us -- as brother officers and gentlemen." Frederick nodded. "Admiral Benjamin Locke has been the subject of much conversation around the Admiralty. For years his antics have been petty, ridiculous and wicked in turn, but now, in a very short time, they have gone from all that, to traitorous."
"I never thought Locke intelligent enough for treason. Personally repellent and dissolute, but not the sort of man able to do much to betray his brother officers and the Crown."
McGillvary glanced at the Captain and brightened a bit. "Intelligence is not necessarily on his side of the treason. Locke is just the sort of dupe our enemies pray for. The man is grasping and malicious, but not smart enough to arrange things to his own liking -- but for a price, others can." He took a drink and continued, "The most amusing thing about it all is that, indirectly, his actions have brought about your latest commission."
The statement puzzled Frederick. "I was led to believe -- by the Admiral himself -- that he was responsible, but by your tone, I do not think you mean in the same way."
This piqued the Admiral's attention. "How so?"
"I am nearly ashamed to say, but just last month, I presumed upon a favour done him years ago. I, uh, I made it known that I wanted to be back at sea. He said that he would do what he was in his power -- hinting he had something in mind -- and several days later, I received the orders." The Captain could see that his friend was itching to ask why a newly married man would want to be back at sea, but he was greatly relieved that the question was not given voice.
The suspicious look vanished and the official inquiry continued. "Locke told you that the assignment was by way of him?"
"Yes. It was clear that if I received anything, he wanted me to believe such."
"Never let it be said that Locke would miss an opportunity to take credit, even when it is not due him. Locke had nothing to do with your being brought back, it was I. The orders were signed and sealed in early January. It was not so difficult convincing others that you were the man for the assignment, but I nearly had to sell my soul to get the Laconia for you -- with a refit into the bargain!"
The Captain thought for a time. It was a relief that he owed Locke nothing, but that he would be used in such an infamous manner was vexing. "And so the wretched fraud would have gotten away with this were not for our friendship."
"Looks that way."
By now, the half hour was up and the serving boy had cleared and brought a saddle of lamb and several sides. After a near disaster with the turnips, he cleared out and the men were able to resume the discussion.
"I hesitate to ask, but what has he done? If you can say without betraying too much," Wentworth added.
"Locke has exchanged information that, while not vital now, has the potential to be so. He helped to prop open a few doors that really should be shut. There had been suspicions, but no real evidence until a few weeks ago. Someone close to Locke grew tired of being harried and sent us a packet of interesting information. We have tried to contact the informant, but they seem to have disappeared."
"Would the informant be a chap named Darwin? Smallish, balding, with glasses."
The expression of the Admiral changed little. "Who might this Darwin be, and how do you know of him?"
"When I met with Locke in February, Darwin was the secretary. A harried fellow if I ever saw one. Now, there is another fellow. Younger, less harried."
"I can not say whether the two are one in the same," McGillvary declared. His tone was significant. "We were to receive more information, but have heard nothing. Inquiries have led nowhere. The informant is a single man with no connections and therefore little can be found about him. It has been suggested that he has thought better of his deed and so has fled the country. I personally believe otherwise."
"And what might you believe, Admiral?"
"I believe he might be dead."
"By Locke's hand?"
"You said it yourself, he is not very intelligent. Perhaps those with which he has allied himself grew concerned. Who can say? No matter what, I just days ago got word that things have fallen into place. There are circumstances taking shape on the other side of the world; our government is anxious to shape them to our benefit." The details the Admiral shared were vague, but clear enough in their breadth and depth. "If you pull this off, my boy, you will be in the roses for a long time. Your name will be remembered, mark me"
The Captain had touched none of his food, only drunk his wine. He laughed lightly. "Yes, I am sure. This is the sort of stuff that gets you killed. Then no one forgets you because they erect a statue with a lovely brass plaque -- bearing your name."
"You do not want it? Since when is playing the hero not to your liking, Wentworth? Someone else could be found -- they'll not do the job with your grace and skill, but -- "
"I never said that. Of course I want it. Peru, Chile, possibly the western coast of America. I would be an idiot not to go. I just never thought ... two, maybe three years is a long time."
As his feeling for his wife had resolved themselves for the better, he had hoped his assignment in the West Indies would be simple -- and short; a year at the most. The scheme which Patrick outlined would be every bit of two years, more realistically, three. But what a three years it would be!
The room was quiet for a few moments. Both men attended to their thoughts and their dinners. The boy returned with another remove. The silence continued.
Part way through his beef, McGillvary laid down his knife and fork. He studied his watch, then as he put it away, he said, "I have forgotten to tell you something. I am retiring." He did not look directly at the Captain, but took up his silver and returned to the beef.
It was the Captain's turn to put down his silver. "Why, in God's name? You have a fair chance to be First Lord one day. I was looking forward to presuming on the connection." It was said mostly in jest -- only mostly.
The boy returned with a treacle pudding, port and walnuts. The Admiral, now speaking personally, felt no need for precaution. "I thought it was time to clear out the list a bit. Give fellows like you a chance to move up." He leant back and sighed, "To be truthful, Frederick, I have no more stomach for it. The Navy is changing and our kind are not wanted. The Admiralty now thrives on forms, reports and clean fingernails. I am in such a position that only full-out war will put me at sea again; I am doomed to fight the battle of paperwork the rest of my career. Besides, you know that Claire died." Frederick nodded. "That leaves me with a fifteen year old daughter to see well-married. As the topper, last spring, my father died. It leaves a lot of McGillvary dependents looking to me to keep the coffers flowing."
In all the years they had been acquainted, Wentworth had never seen McGillvary more serious than at that moment. The weight of responsibility was on him, but this was a man who was more than up to the task, and Frederick said so.
McGillvary smiled. "Do not misunderstand me, part of me will always long for the sea, but I am finding that piracy on paper can have it's rewards." He leant in. "When you take a direct hit, you are in no danger of drowning." He smiled. "I perhaps am becoming a sentimental old fool. Seeing that you are hesitant about South America -- don't interrupt me -- I have a few favours owed me and I do not wish them wasted. There is a position at the Naval College at Portsmouth, they need an officer in charge of sailing; you would be master of your own tiny fleet. Oh, do not roll your eyes so."
"You just finished lamenting that the Navy does not want the likes of us; now you offer me a post which would put me square in the middle of this New Navy. It makes no sense."
"It makes perfect sense. I know the thought of weekly sails with a shipload of lubbers is not very appealing, but you could teach these Cadets how a true sailor works and thinks. Give them a taste of the real Navy, not this gentlemanly palaver that is creeping into the Admiralty. They have become far too concerned that officers move brilliantly through drawing rooms rather than have the proficiency needed to win in battle. Nelson would never make lieutenant were he to be examined today. You could have a great influence over these youngsters. Besides all that high-mindedness," his look softened, "most nights, you could be home for dinner."
The very thought had already crossed the Captain's mind. He could give his wife a proper home, a proper life.
McGillvary looked away. "I like to think that it was the demands of my career that ruined my marriage. But," he said, catching Wentworth's eye, "it was not. You better than anyone knows that. I know you never approved of me on that score, and I abused you horribly for it. I am sorry -- "
"There is no need to -- "
"They say that confession is good for the soul, friend. I had few natural feeling for Claire when we married. But perhaps had I cultivated her, that might have changed. Instead I sought comfort in every quarter of the world, except the one I had vowed to cherish. The only thing I have ever been faithful to is the Crown, but you on the other hand are only faithful. It is as much a part of you as breathing. I have disparaged it openly and publicly at times. It is only lately that I find I envy it."
The gentlemen set to diverting themselves. Both were uncomfortable with the remarks.
"It would only be for a year, mind," said McGillvary firmly. "That is as far as my influence with the Head extends. But knowing you, you would be indispensable within a month and they would never let you go. You do what you wish. You are the only man I know who could do either undertaking justice." For a time, both cracked walnuts and made neat little piles of meats and shells. Neither knew how to re-enter the conversation.
After a deep drink and turn about the room, the Admiral opened. "Perhaps a sentimental heart shall serve me well. You see, this past fortnight, I have had three close encounters with the same breathtaking creature. I feel certain luck is with me and that there shall be another."
McGillvary's face betrayed the high feelings still present, but Wentworth would follow the diversion as both had become much too, in Patrick's words, sentimental. "What! Three encounters, but no introductions! How can that be, with the great Admiral McGillvary at the helm?"
"Bad fortune is the only excuse. D*mn near did my own the other evening, but some tubby boy masquerading as a gentleman cut her out and I was obliged to get on the road to come here, so ..." he hesitated, then grinned and raised his glass, "so I think I can blame you for at least one instance of my bad fortune!" He laughed and took a drink.
Wentworth laughed. "If you must blame anyone, blame me then." He too drank.
"You should see her, Captain. She is a dark-haired beauty with eyes that invite a man to touch at his peril, and a tongue that I am certain is able to cut to the bone."
Wentworth set down his glass and offered, "She sounds bloody dangerous! Her husband might not live through the honeymoon."
"Ah," he cried, "that is the challenge! You know how exhilarated a man feels after he has cheated death yet again! Though speaking of marriage, I will want you there. She has a father that could be a trial. I was arrayed in my finest and he looked at me as though I was one of his footmen. With the two of us to face him down, he will not dare such condescension. I have not met him, but from what I have gathered from those who would know, Sir Walter Elliot is -- "
McGillvary's observations of the Baronet went unheard. While the disposition of the mysterious woman bore no resemblance to Anne, because in Frederick's mind, there was but one dark-haired Elliot daughter, the evening's enjoyment was quite ended.
Continued in Part 6
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