Love Suffers Long and Is Kind, Volume IV
The sound of holystones, applied vigourously to the boards just above his head, brought Wentworth from his fitful sleep. As the Moonshine was not a King's fighting ship, but in actuality a floating inn, Captain Harville had not deemed it necessary to carry on with the usual customs of a frigate. This included the daily ritual of holystoning the deck, which now, was accomplished only on Mondays. When Wentworth had arrived and taken command, he had chosen not to upset the schedule to which the men had grown accustomed. It was mornings such as this which he realised how much he missed that daily rite.
The Captain rose and dressed without summoning Michaelson. He had no appetite and saw no reason to awaken his steward. Though for a brief moment, he thought of coffee. Rather than indulge himself, he took his best telescope from its rosewood box and went above deck.
The midshipman in charge of the morning detail came to attention, surprised to see the Captain about so early. Wentworth motioned at ease and began the climb the shrouds to the fore top. After a cursory survey of the port and other ships nearby, Wentworth collapsed the scope, carefully placed it in an inner pocket, and stared off towards the hills of Plymouth.
The previous evening's meeting with McGillvary had been unsurprising and disturbing by turns. His new knowledge of Locke had not been much a surprise. The worthless sharp having escaped scragging by his crews and avoiding detection by the Admiralty was more the wonder.
In turn, the Admiral's disclosure about a certain Miss Elliot had momentarily caused a breathless panic to rise within him. The idea that Anne might fall prey to the likes of the faithless McGillvary was not to be borne, but after bumbling through the remainder of the evening and arriving back to his quarters and its solitude, he began to think more clearly. Anne Elliot was a woman too intelligent to suit McGillvary and would not so easily be taken in by his pretty manner nor pretty face. Nonetheless, his friend seemed to be undergoing a transformation of some sort, perhaps one for the better. If by some miracle, Anne would come to prefer him, the situation was not any of Wentworth's business and anything to do with it was best left to God.
Turning to face the channel McGillvary's offer of a position at the Naval College became uppermost in his thoughts. While the idea of a regular a life for he and his wife was tempting, the duties of teaching cadets to sail was less than appealing. It was not that he despised teaching the ways of the Navy to youngsters, he had done more than his share over the long years of his career. Certainly, as a captain, he did not teach such basics, but he did his utmost to provide the most experienced of sailors to pass along the ways of the sea. If he were to accept the position, all he could imagine was being alone trapped and alone aboard a ship of wailing children.
An interesting line of waves caught his attention and he drew out the scope. His heart soared as he watched the them crash against Rams Cliff Point. The very movement of the water, the feel of the foretop swaying beneath him, the life the sea afforded him would never be satisfied in Portsmouth. The last thing that McGillvary had said to him, the evening before, was that he should speak with his wife about the appointment. In that moment, Wentworth knew that he would not mention the opportunity to Louisa. He had done his duty by her and been blessed with a love he had not expected to feel, but he knew she would desire to be with him. As pleasing as her presence would be, to accept an appointment at the Naval College would probably shipwreck his seagoing career. In the future he and Louisa would have their time together; being thrown ashore would naturally befall him, as it did all of the sailing trade. His wife would not be hurt by that she did not know, and the choice being left to him, he would stay with that which was deepest in his soul, the sea.
As he turned to leave the top, he spied a small boat being rowed out from the dock. He watched it for a time. It was headed for the Moonshine. It came along side, a man scrambled down and received what looked to be a letter. Mr Dalton, the mid on duty, raced up the shrouds in a manner that made Wentworth envious of youth.
Dalton flipped over the side with ease and panted, "Sir, a message for you."
Wentworth took the message and dismissed the youngster. He looked at the seal. It bore a bold "PM" entwined with a harp and fouled anchor.
As he opened it, he wondered if the Admiral had some new scheme with which to entice him.
Thank you for your company last evening. It was good to see you and have an opportunity to reminisce. I am departing Plymouth just after noon, but not before I visit with the powers that be. I am certain you will see a marked difference in your treatment thereafter. Be prepared Frederick, once things begin to move, they will move with astonishing speed. I know I told you to take your time in deciding my offer, but do not take too long.
He folded the letter and tucked it in his breast pocket. "Astonishing speed, eh? We shall see," he murmured as he slid through the lubber's hole and down the rigging.
The gig, which carried the Rector and Doctor Abernathy, finally disappeared around the bend in the road. Louisa opened the small bag she had packed. In it, Frederick's smock-frock and the Rector's old hat. She felt in her pocket for her blue necklace. Everything was ready. She opened the door and made her way down the hall.
It had been more difficult than she had anticipated convincing Mr Putnam, the Captain's money man, to give her anything. When she had not been able to give him a reasonable answer to his inquiries about why the money was needed, he had lectured her on is responsibilities to his client -- the Captain -- and with precision, counted out fifty pounds. He had also admonished her that he would give her no more that quarter and that to ask would be fruitless.
"So much for my independence," she muttered. Louisa entered Fulton's with the intention of buying a small lantern and some peppermint sticks. It would be necessary to find her way in the dark, hence the lantern. Not knowing how long she would have to wait, once she reached Bramford Hall, she wanted the candy to stave off hunger. Though presently her nerves were doing more than an adequate job on that score.
After purchasing the lamp and candy, she had enquired as to the location of the Hall. Mr Fulton had been kind enough to draw her a simple map. It seemed easy enough to find and so Louisa set off in the direction indicated by Fulton.
Once out of town, she ducked into a hedgerow and put on her husband's smock-frock along with the hat. She wanted no one to recognise her as she made her way to the Hall. She jammed her pelisse and bonnet into the bag that now held the money. Clambering back onto the road, it took no time before she was at the head of the Hall's drive. It was still light and so she chose a clump of beeches a distance from the gate and settled herself to wait for the appointed time.
After a carriage passed through the gates, she looked around and realised the night was coming quickly. Thinking it best to light the lamp while she still had some sun, she wrestled with the flint. After an unreasonable time, she was able to coax a flame from the wick. She welcomed the slight warmth. Pulling the panels closed around the belly of the lantern, she waited for six o'clock.
Pollard Levant rode up into the yard of the deserted house on Cider Press Road. He surveyed the tumbled-down wreck and began to rethink his plan. A wild hedge engulfed the house and vines commandeered large portions of the kitchen garden. Stones that lay about the yard testified to the cottage being substituted as a Goliath for many a young David. All-in-all, the house was certainly not the sort of place one would normally choose for an evening of pleasure. Nevertheless, Pollard Levant whistled as he unfastened the straps that held the picnic basket.
The Master of the Manor had harried his longsuffering cook for the best of the Bramford cellars, and tasty delicacies that would tempt the unsophisticated palate of a young woman. As he made his way through the house's thriving English jungle, Levant felt his blood stir in anticipation of the night's game of chance.
After lighting the candles, spreading the blankets and arranging the food, Levant examined his handiwork with a critical eye. He had chosen a small room in the back of the house. From the outside, the room was covered by the hedge and vines; from the road no one would see the candlelight, or the small fire, and become suspicious. As he bent to take a taste of the tarts, he did not hear the two men who entered the room, nor did he see the mud covered boot as it was planted firmly upon his backside.
With the night, the damps had fallen. It was warm for mid March, but the nights were still wet and cold and anyone out is such weather hurried home to warm themselves by the fire. Such was the case of Rector Wentworth and Doctor Abernathy.
"Did you hear me, doctor?" the Rector asked, and touched his friend's arm. He had asked about a certain parishioner taken with a fever, but as yet, had gotten no answer.
Abernathy started. "Wha -- shh. I hear something." His hand hung, midair, as he continued to listen.
Reining the horse to a stop, the men listened.
A shiver went through the rector. He heard nothing out of the ordinary, and wanted more than anything to be home, seated before a hot meal. "I hear nothing, Abernathy. Let us ... " His voice faded. Now he had heard the noise. Whether human or animal he was not certain, but there had been something.
"Walk on," Abernathy clucked to his horse. His voice was low as they strained to hear. "It came from over that way, I think. The house perhaps."
"Perhaps," Wentworth replied.
The abandoned house was one of the few in the area of Crown Hill, and its stark loneliness disturbed Edward whenever he rode by.
"There's a horse in the side yard, over there," the Doctor pointed as they stopped at the head of the short drive. Before Edward could say a word, Abernathy had reached under the seat of the gig and brought out a pistol, jumped down and taken one of the lanterns from its bracket. He was making his way slowly towards the house.
"Doctor, come back here," he called. Hopelessly, he added, "We have no notion of what is going on."
The doctor looked back at the Rector and hissed, "That horse did not bring itself here, and I heard someone cry out, as though in pain -- "
Just then, something in the house clattered. Silence fell.
Both men became as statues.
"It was most likely a cat worrying a rat," the Rector offered. "Let us go on home."
Abernathy raised the lantern and surveyed the yard and house. Just as he was lowering it, two dark shapes ran from the house. Abernathy called for them to stop. When they did not, he fired a shot over their heads. The shapes disappeared into the field that bordered the cottage.
The men remained silent for a moment, both breathed fast and deep. The only thing that stirred was small clouds made by their heavy breathing. Eventually, Abernathy gave up and was returning to the gig. Just as he prepared to hoist himself into the cart, a cry grabbed their attention.
"That was definitely from inside." Jumping down and running towards the house, the Doctor called over his shoulder, "Bring my bag. It is under your side of the seat."
Edward took a deep breath. He now had no choice; he was going to accompany Abernathy into the house.
Abernathy had waited for him by the door less entryway. They entered cautiously. Section by section, they examined the room by the lantern's light. They heard the sound again and they walked towards the rear of the house. The smell of a fire became stronger as they came closer to a doorway. They looked in the tiny room and saw the lantern was not necessary; the mantel was lined with candles.
"Someone took some care." Abernathy bent and picked up a broken bottle. He looked about. "There is wine and there was a fire -- " The candles illuminated the wrecked picnic, and in a barely lite corner the shadows tried to hide the body of Pollard Levant.
Abernathy handed off the lantern, knelt and began to examine Levant. By the looks of him, Edward reckoned him dead, but as Abernathy checked and manipulated the body, small moans escaped it and testified to some life.
The Doctor stood and moved the Rector away. "There is nothing that can be done for him. The blessing is that he will not live long. You stay with him and I will go for help. Perhaps the men who did this can be found if we report this to the authorities immediately." Abernathy started for the door.
The Rector caught his arm, "Would it not be better if you were to stay? I can do nothing to make him comfortable, but you -- "
"Edward, he is beaten to death. If he is so unfortunate as to regain consciousness, I assure you, he will need what you can offer him more than anything I have in this bag." He took the lantern headed to the door. Before he got far, Abernathy returned and said, "Keep this with you. Those two might come back."
Edward took the pistol. It was small, with double barrels, but with one shot gone it gave him little comfort. He stood and watched the doctor disappear, then listened as the gig pulled out of the yard and rattled down the road. Turning back into the room, he looked around at the scattered food, napkins and blankets. By the mess, there had been a tremendous struggle. The Rector could not imagine that a man of Pollard Levant's sort would put up much opposition, but when one's life was at stake, who could say how hard a man would fight.
"Ah, wha -- " murmured Levant.
The Rector grabbed up a blanket and went to him.
He covered him and sat quietly. He looked at the swollen face and thought it was just the day before that he had seen him. He had sat in the third row, directly before him as he preached, quite alive. Now, Levant would most certainly be dead in a few hours. "Man is but a vapour," Edward thought.
"Louisa," Levant murmured. He struggled to rise, but his injuries were too severe. The most he could do was turn his head about. "Where is she? Is she here?"
His stomach lurched and it took the Rector a few moments to respond. "No. There is no one here besides us."
"Just us sinners, eh Rector?" Levant coughed. He held Levant's head and did his best to wipe the man's mouth. Fetching a bottle of wine that had escaped the melee, he searched and found a small cup. Holding it to Levant's mouth, the man drank a little and fell back. "Does this gratify you? To see me like this -- in such reduced conditions?"
Even though he lay dying, Levant would only admit to reduced conditions. "No, not at all," replied Wentworth.
"Come, come," he wheezed, "after all the trouble I have caused you -- all piety aside -- aren't you a little glad?"
"No. I realise now that when we wish evil, if it comes to pass, it is more ugly than we could imagine."
"So, you did wish me harm." He laughed which caused a coughing fit.
Again the Rector cleaned his chin and gave him the wine. "I did wish you ill, not harm, but ... can you forgive me?" He tossed the napkin away.
The glassy eyes examined his face. A spasm of pain shot through Levant and he grimaced. "I am dying, Wentworth, your insignificant sin makes no difference in the grand scheme." The dying man licked his lips. The Rector gave him wine. Even now, Levant was too stubborn to ask his help. "And what of me? My sins? Have you any recommendations?" Levant challenged.
If it was possible, Levant was loosing strength and color every second. The end would come soon. "Call upon God's mercy. It is the best any of us can do." Though the Rector knew the truth of them, the words rang hollow when surrounded by such brutality.
"Ah, professional guidance," he mocked. He gritted his teeth and raised himself all he was able. "Do not pity me, priest. I shall never give in to -- " The rest was lost in a snarl of pain. A convulsion shook him, he fell back and was dead.
The Rector Wentworth had presided over many deaths and this was not even the bitterest of them. Even so, his hands shook as he closed the eyes and covered the corpse. He rose and stared at the light the mantel candles reflected. He tried to pray, but could not. Over the past weeks he had taken quiet comfort in knowing that Pollard Levant would pay a heavy toll for his excessive wickedness, but now that he had been present when the payment had been collected, there was no satisfaction; only ashes on his tongue.
When it was time, Louisa disentangled herself from the beeches and began to make her way down the drive. She heard the murmur of voices before she saw anyone. As she rounded a bend in the roadway, leading to the manor house, she saw the flickering lights of lanterns and carriage lights. Louisa paused behind a tree and watched for a moment. Two men stood together outside a well-appointed carriage. They talked to one another, but they also spoke with the occupant of the coach. As she glanced about, the lights of the mansion reminded her of her mission. No one noticed her, she was determined to keep it that way.
Finding cover in some bushes, she closed the panels of the lantern even more. Carefully she proceeded. It was slow going as she ducked around the underbrush and trees that lined the road. Now and then, the Rector's hat was knocked off and it took time to grope in the dark to find it. Reaching a good sized clump, she stayed put for a time. Keeping a watch on the group at the coach, she waited a moment. Just as she was about to dash to the safety of a large hedge, she found her coat caught on a branch. Turning to free herself, she felt a hand grab her arm, and heard a voice exclaim, "What have we here?" The larger of the two men pulled her from her hiding place. The man was strong and even as she struggled, she had no more power over him than a rag doll.
"Let me go!" she cried, the dark lantern falling from her hands and smashing on the ground.
"We might have a bit of fun with this, Danny," her captor leered.
"Not right away -- looky what ya done, Toddy!" the other cried.
"Well take care o' it," he said as he dragged a struggling Louisa to the carriage and into the light of its lanterns.
As he kicked the remains of the lantern away and began to stamp out the flames, Danny muttered, "All he thinks 'bout are the woman. As though that one would welcome him!"
"Looky what I found," Toddy said, proudly displaying his catch.
Louisa ceased her struggling as the light more clearly showed the man's hands. They were spattered with blood. As the second man joined them, she glanced his way and saw that, he too, was blood stained. She sagged in the huge arms that held her. In a terrifying moment, she wondered how they had come to be in their condition and what it might mean for her.
"Who is this you oaf? Let me see his face!" cried a voice from the carriage.
Toddy knew what he had and that he was now about to lose it. Reluctantly, he turned Louisa's face towards the carriage window. Everyone was silent.
"I think you will have no more fun this evening than you have had any other evening of your stay in the Parish, gentlemen." The man stayed in the shadows, but his voice was strong and commanding enough to loosen the man's grip. To Louisa he said, "Mrs Wentworth, please allow me to be of use to you." The door to the carriage opened in invitation.
After giving Demarest's men a generous bonus for their expert skills, Randwick had sent them away and assured Louisa that seeing her safely home was his sole concern.
"Mr Randwick, I must thank you. I don't know why those men were at Bramford Hall. I had come to see Mr Levant -- to give him something." As she spoke, she noticed that Randwick, and the woman with him, looked at one another. She pulled her bag closer and thought better of the subject. "Anywise, I am sure that he would not approve of such people on his property.
Randwick smirked and said, "You are quite right Mrs Wentworth, Pollard would not like such characters skulking about, but ... " Another look to the woman. "At this time, Mr Levant is not in a position to say much about them." He was silent for a moment and then asked what Louisa had brought.
Trying not to fuss and call further attention to the bag, she said, "Nothing really. I was coming more for a visit ... he had invited me."
The woman drawled, "Come now, Mrs Wentworth, unescorted ladies do not go calling on single men at this time of the evening. I would not like to think you are lying to us -- not the sister-in-law of the Rector."
While Mrs Wentworth had a strong sense of family honour, she also understood her circumstances were precarious at best and growing more so all the time. If lying would free her, lie she would. "I ... I misspoke about giving him something ... I was only coming to visit," she insisted.
"She does not do this very well, does she?" Randwick commented to the woman.
"No. Not enough practice. But now that she is married, her skills will improve."
"What," began Randwick, "do you think she was bringing to the old fellow?"
"She is endeavouring to hide it, but I would look in that awful little bag."
Out of instinct, Louisa clutched the awful little bag as Randwick moved towards her. When he reached for it, she did not resist him. She still had hopes that she would be released and if the money would help to that end, so much the better.
"Not a fortune," said Randwick, as he squinted at the bills. He held it up to the dim light, trying to count the notes. "But enough for a lovely evening out." He tucked them into his coat pocket.
"We must be nearing the Rectory. Now that you have the money, please, let me out ... I shall find my own way home." She sat back and eyed her companions.
"You are not nearly as clever as I thought. Do you not understand? We are not taking you home to the Rector. You are far too ... important to us at this juncture." Randwick sat back and the woman was silent.
Louisa said nothing for a time. She looked from one to the other. Suddenly she sprang to the door. She gave no thought of possible injury to her person. Nor did she think about being lost and unable to find her way, she was merely determined to escape her captors. Unfortunately, the roads were bad and jostled the carriage a great deal. After a particularly jarring bump, she fell into the lap of the woman. Before she could recover, Randwick pulled her back to the opposite seat. There he held her tightly, in a sort of bearhug.
Louisa struggled more out of anger than any notion of attaining her freedom. The man tightened his grip, to the point of hurting her. She ceased the struggle. Both she and Randwick breathed hard as he collected himself. He finally gained himself and said to the woman, "I realise that taking her was not a part of our plan, but I think improvisation will prove very useful, might it not?"
"Perhaps. Only time will tell." The woman's tone was deadly cool and frightened Louisa.
In a foolish and imprudent burst of bravado, Louisa cried, "No matter where you take me, I shall find a way to escape you -- I shall -- "
Randwick jerked her close and hissed in her ear, "Yes my lovely Mrs Wentworth, just what might you do? We are exceedingly interested to know."
All she could feel hot his breath on her ear. She was powerless and she knew it. Unfortunately, her pride consisted more of stubbornness than wisdom and she refused to surrender. "The horses cannot go on forever and wherever we stop, I shall scream and cry to anyone who will hear me, " she declared. "I shall not go unnoticed!"
"Did you hear my dear? She intends to make herself known as we travel." Both Randwick and the woman laughed.
"Pity she promises to be so unmanageable, we might have found her to be quite a genial travelling companion," the woman said. As she spoke, she opened and felt around in her reticule. Pulling it closed, she shook a small glass vial before them. "If you would be so kind, Daniel. Open her mouth, please."
"Ah, you are full of surprises." he said as he raised a hand to Louisa's mouth. "Now pet, open without a struggle and things will be much better for all of us."
"No," Louisa shrieked through clinched teeth.
Randwick shook her and pressed the sides of her jaw with murderous force. "I promise you," he said through gritted teeth, "I would have no difficulty -- with either my strength, or my conscience -- in doing you a great deal of damage, Mrs Wentworth. Now open, please."
There was nothing for Louisa to do but obey. The woman smiled maliciously as she leant over her. The bitter drops of liquid splashed on her tongue and slide down her throat. As she began to gag, Randwick covered her mouth with his hand and forced her to swallow.
When he felt certain it was all down, he let her up and returned to his seat next to the woman. Though it was dark, he straightened his cuffs and sleeves. Satisfied, he said, "Quite handy, that little vial. Mrs Wentworth, you will begin to feel agitated in a moment. And though it is entirely of our doing, I warn you, we will not brook any bad behaviour. After a half an hour or so, you will fall into a deep sleep." He continued to tidy himself.
"And," said the woman, leaning towards her, "As far as we know, you will wake up. Unless of course I miscalculated the number of drops I gave you. That is sometimes the case with Laudanum. If that is the case tonight -- well, you will never know will you?" She sat back and folded her hands.
Against her will, Louisa could feel an agitation welling up inside her. It never entered her mind that the agitation might be her own nerves rather than anything they had forced upon her. Whether it was truly the laudanum or merely nerves, she was so frightened that the only thoughts that came to her mind were her very ordinary, but now very pacifying, bedtime prayers.
The coach jostled as it found the grooves in the road and Randwick laid Louisa on the floor to keep her from falling and awakening. Settling himself next to Rosamond, he began to go through the bag Louisa had carried. Absently, he said, "She certainly went down quickly, and a bit hard. Don't you think?"
"Yes," she said. The girl's pelisse had fallen across her lap and she pushed it to the floor. "Perhaps I overdid."
The bonnet went to the floor and Randwick retrieved the pelisse. "If that is the case," he said, searching the pockets, "it had better be the only time you overdo." He held up the necklace for a moment and then put it in his own pocket. "I have plans for her and I will not have then spoiled by you." He began to fold the pelisse, but stopped and pointed towards the bonnet on the floor.
Rosamond studied him. She finally reached down and gave him the bonnet. He stuffed it into the pelisse.
"Check to see if she has any rings," Randwick ordered.
The turn in his manner was sudden and annoying. She realised his claims of improvisation were as false as he was. Rosamond did as she was told. "Here. It is a simple band. There are no others."
He studied it in the dim light. "So typical. I am certain the Captain thought a simple band more romantic than anything more ... valuable." He flicked it into the air and caught it. It joined the necklace. He then rapped on the side of the coach. As they drew to a stop, he brought an unsealed letter out of his pocket. He waved the packet before Rosamond's face. "This will buy us some time." He opened the packet, removed the jewelry and folded it into the letter. "Boy," he called. "Deliver this to the Crown Hill Rectory," Randwick said as he shoved the letter at the lad.
"But sir, I get three days wage for a trip to London. Surely a gentleman such as yourself wouldn't cheat me this way."
Randwick had a good mind to thrash the post boy within an inch of his miserable life, but admired the brass he showed. Reaching into his breast pocket, he carelessly pulled out a few of the bills taken from Mrs Wentworth. "Here you worthless whelp. When you deliver it, say it was given to you by a very young -- wait -- very pretty young woman and say nothing about the two of us. Or else."
The boy grinned after looking at the bills. He shoved them into his pocket, along with the letter. "You got it, Guv. Not one word 'bout you and the lady." He thumped the side of the carriage and called, "See ya next week, Bill," and ran off in the opposite direction from the coach.
The couple was quiet for a time. They had rattled on at a brisk pace for nearly three-quarters of an hour. After a particularly rough stretch, Randwick said, "Were we better people, we might put something under her head."
A low giggle escaped Rosamond. She reached between them, where the pelisse had come to rest, and took the bundle. Opening the window, she glanced back at him and said, "But we are not very good, are we?" With that, she dropped the bundle.
Randwick shook his head. "Perhaps someone will get some good use out of them."
"One can always hope," Rosamond said as she rested her head upon his shoulder.
The Rector could not help the relieved sigh which escaped his lips as they entered the Rectory. The warmth of the kitchen fire warmed his frigid cheeks and banished the unworldly scenes which had preoccupied his thoughts all the way home.
Before he and Abernathy had a chance to remove their outer garments, Graham entered and exclaimed, "Praise be to God, you have returned Rector. Please hurry, Mrs Wentworth is in an awful way."
The two men looked at one another and moved as one towards the back stairs."Not up there, sir. She'd not go up and wait for you. We have her tucked in the study."
The woman disappeared before the Rector could ask who "we" might be.
The study's door stood open and he could feel the warmth of what must be a high fire. As they entered, he saw Joshua Junkins standing near the window and the man's wife leaning over one of the chairs before the hearth. Coming more fully into the room, he could see his wife accepting a cup of tea from Mrs Junkins. Both ladies heard them enter and the cup and saucer clattered to the floor as Catherine rose suddenly.
"Catherine, please remain seat -- " cried Mrs Junkins, reaching to restrain the lady.
"Edward," Mrs Wentworth exclaimed, "she is gone ... and ... I --" Her words hung in the air as she took in his appearance. She stood frozen. "Good God! What has happened?"
He looked down at himself and realised he had not washed up; his shirt would still bear traces of the violence on Cider Press Road. Before he could answer, everything seemed to slow and he watched as Catherine crumpled to the floor. He cried out, and everyone began to move, including himself. Despite the activity, an eerie silence took possession of the room.
He found himself next to Doctor Abernathy, who shouted orders to Graham and Mr Junkins. The Doctor felt her wrist and then her neck. Relief came over his flushed face and he murmured, "She is only fainted, but we must get her to bed."
"I tried to tell her, but she refused to go up. We have been sitting here for hours keeping her warm -- she complained of a chill," explained Mrs Junkins.
"Why are you and Joshua here?" demanded the Rector.
"Graham sent for us. She fears that something awful has happened to -- "
Her answer was cut off by the arrival of Mr Junkins with a chair from the dining room.
Taking note of Edward's hesitation, Abernathy encouraged, "She'll not break, Rector -- but gently." With a bit of awkwardness, Catherine was moved on to the chair. Knowing his friend was nearly exhausted, the Doctor looked keenly at him and asked, "Are you up to the stairs?" He glanced towards Joshua, and then back to Wentworth. The Rector nodded as together they lifted.
"I shall go on up -- I sent Mary up a few moments ago to make the bed ready. I was going to try again to persuade her to retire." Mrs Junkins gathered her skirts and ran ahead up the stairs.
Edward wondered for a moment where Louisa might be in all this, but making their way through the tight hallway to the stairs forced his mind elsewhere.
"It would be best if you go up, with her head, first,"
As they mounted the stairs, the Rector did all that was possible to avert his eyes from his wife. She was as pale as he had ever seen her and with her eyes closed and body lifeless --
Slowly the eyes opened and she looked around. "Edward?" Confused by her position, she tried to rise.
"Catherine," he replied. "You have -- "
"Mrs Wentworth," the doctor interrupted, "I must ask that you lie still. Everything will be all right and you will be abed in no time."
They entered the bed chamber and found Mary had been prompt in her errand; the bed covers were laid back and Mrs Junkins was laying out a gown. Just then, Graham entered the room with the Doctor's bag.
After laying Catherine on the bed, Abernathy sent Mary to make tea. Turning to Edward, he took him by the arm and moved him towards the door. "I must ask you to leave, Rector."
"But -- I --" Edward stammered as he tried to disengage himself from the doctor.
Abernathy's expression softened a bit. "I know you are worried, but I need the assistance of these ladies more than I need a worried husband. Go have some tea and I shall be down as soon as I have news."
"Come," Joshua wheezed in his ear.
He stared as the door closed. He listened for any scrap of voices. All he heard was Mrs Junkins saying something about a little "show." It made no sense and then the voices became muffled in activity.
"Come, friend. Let us go down and wait." Joshua propelled him to the stairs.
At the bottom of the stairs, Joshua sent the Rector on to the study, saying he would join him in a moment. Upon entering the room, Joshua was shocked to find him, stripped to his undershirt, wearing neither waistcoat or shirt. The Rector was, in fact, burning the garments in the fireplace.
"I have brought you some water with which to wash -- I noticed your hands, and," he brushed a place on his own face. "How did it happen?"
The Rector did not look away from the burning clothes. "Pollard Levant was badly beaten -- on Cider Press Road -- I stayed with him until he died." Satisfied that the offending garments were burning completely, he rose and pulled on his suit coat. After he finished with the buttons, he looked at Joshua with a sardonic smile. "One of the advantages of always wearing black, no tell-tale signs of a murder."
A knock at the door brought Mary with the tea. "The Missus came down and told me to make you some sandwiches, Rector. She knew you would not have eaten. She said the Doctor's stomach is making outrageous noises." The girl smiled from the Rector to Mr Junkins.
Joshua returned the smile and patted her head. "I am certain it is very amusing, Mary. Thank you for the tea and food. Now see what you might do around the kitchen to help Graham."
The girl curtsied and left the gentlemen.
The Rector ignored the tea and sandwiches and busied himself at the basin of water. He then took up a post by the fire, watching the last of his clothes burn away. "Where is she?" he suddenly asked.
Joshua had taken a cup of tea and took a chair before the fire. He took a drink before he spoke. "Your wife found her missing in the afternoon. As it grew dark, she worked herself into such a state that Graham sent for us. We came as quickly as we could. When we arrived, we told her that we were just passing on our way home. It has been hours. A large young man came a while ago and brought this," he fished a note from his breast pocket. "It is for you, but when he said a pretty young woman had given it to him -- I read it."
He unfolded the note, then asked, "Has Catherine seen this?" After reading it, if she had, he knew precisely why she was in such an agitation.
"She has not. I told them that the gentleman at the door was merely lost, just looking for directions."
Edward stared at the note. Suddenly, he crushed the paper between his hands and threw it at the hearth. Missing the fire box, it hit just below the mantel shelf and skittered back into the room. It came to rest at Junkins's feet.
"She has run off!" the Rector shouted. "She has run off and left my wife in such a state -- " He turned away from his friend, ashamed to be seen in a rage.
Junkins picked up the note. He opened it and smoothed it, folded it again and laid it gently upon the table. "I think this odd, Rector."
It was not common that Junkins would use the title of Rector. When speaking to Edward, he usually called him, "friend," or perhaps, by his Christian name, theirs being a very singular friendship. It was a rare thing if Wentworth's office was even mentioned.
"Why would you say that, Junkins?"
Taking up the letter, he opened it and began to read:
I have decided to leave Shropshire and return to my family. My stay has been wretched and I am certain you will not miss me in the least. I will write to my husband and inform him of my decision. His forcing me to stay in this prison has been purgatorial, and I want to remember nothing of him. Not even these trifles. My family will deal with the necessary arrangements. Mrs L. Wentworth"
"This does not sound like a young woman. I do not know her well, but -- "
The Rector spun to face him. "You are correct on that score! I think it is obvious that none of us knows her well!" he exclaimed and turned away.
Joshua looked again at the note. He laid a hand on the Rector's shoulder and held out the note. "Read this without any prejudice. Does this sound like Mrs Wentworth? And what of these trifles mentioned. Nothing came with the note. There is something wrong in all this."
The Rector read it again. He walked to the fire and leant against the mantel. Looking at Joshua, he said, "I will admit, reading it with Louisa in mind -- it seems odd. Nothing like her at all." He glanced again at the note. "But she has a willful side -- she was not put off by Levant -- you saw her with him ..." The scenes in the house on Cider Press Road came back to him. The cold, ramshackle room laid out for an assignation. Louisa's name murmured by Levant.
"Yes, I saw her with him." Joshua minced back to his chair. "And I saw her again, just days later." Edward looked up, shocked. He was about to speak when Junkins continued. "I was walking amongst the apples, they did not see me. They were just out front. Her manner towards him was polite, but not friendly; when he tried to move closer, she cut him off and ran back to the house. If you spoke to her, she took it to heart."
The Rector turned away. He began to absently pick the crumbling corner of a brick. He turned back and asked, "Then how am I to take this note? Am I to think that someone else wrote it? Why would she go to all that trouble? The only thing that makes sense is that she has run away and wants nothing to do with any of us."
"Who has run away?" The question came from Abernathy, who had just entered the room.
Both Joshua and the Rector were startled by his presence. Joshua stared into the fire and the Rector cleared his throat.
Abernathy went to the desk and opened his bag. He began to set things aright when he noticed the tray with the tea and sandwiches. Taking one, he took a bite. "So, who has run off?" he asked again.
The two men looked at one another. Edward spoke. "It looks as though Louisa has run away."
It took a moment for the words to penetrate. The doctor looked up and glanced from man to man. "Surely not. I wondered that she was not helping Mrs Wentworth, but ... "
"There was a note."
Abernathy stepped away from the desk. "This is not like Loua, she is not the kind -- "
"After tonight," began the Rector, "I do not think that any of us knows what kind she is."
The Doctor scowled. "I do not like the tone of that. What do you mean by it?"
Joshua looked intently at the Rector. The Rector pushed himself away from the mantel and said, "At the Cider Press house, you commented on the wine, the care taken in the preparations ... "
"Yes," said Abernathy as he step closer. "It was obvious that Levant was anticipating someone -- a woman obviously ... No! How can you think it was Louisa?" His color was high and his breath was coming faster.
Without hesitation, the Rector replied, "Her name was on his dying lips! When he awoke, he looked about as if he expected to see her! Good God, what else am I to think?"
Abernathy stepped back and leant against the desk. He looked away and thought. After a time, he looked back at the Rector and said slowly, "I can vouch that my cousin is not like that. You do not give your brother much credit in his choice of a wife -- "
Junkins murmured, "Rector, do not -- " His warning was ignored.
"My brother," he began with a slow and measure voice, "Did not choose to marry your cousin ... he felt obliged to marry her. He was made to feel that his behaviour had raised her expectations." He ran a hand through his hair. He hesitated, but then rapped out the rest of his accusation. "I now must question whose behaviour actually did oblige him."
Abernathy opened his mouth to speak, but Junkins stood and raised a hand. "Gentlemen. It has been an exhausting day," he looked keenly at the Doctor, "particularly for the Rector."
The Doctor glared from one man to the other, tossed down the sandwich and quickly returned to his bag. "Rector, your wife is fine, but, she will have to stay in bed until the child comes. Things have begun and the birth could be at any time -- tonight, or perhaps next week -- I cannot say. I shall return midmorning to check her again. " He snapped the bag shut and turned to face them. "Gentlemen, I know you will understand if I do not stay, please excuse me. Goodnight." He turned and was out the door.
Edward stared at the desk. He thought to go after his friend, but knew he had nothing to say that could erase the past moments. He threw himself into the second chair before the hearth. "Curse this tongue of mine, Junkins. What have I done?"
"Do you believe what you said?"
The Rector closed his eyes. A ragged breath escaped him. "I do not know what I believe, Joshua. God knows what may happen with Catherine and the baby, tonight I attended the most horrible of deaths and the man was calling the name of my sister-in-law," He closed his eyes for a moment. He sighed and looked at Joshua, "I do not know what to believe, or," he rubbed his forehead, "what I am going to tell my brother."
The drawing room door opened quietly but Anne Elliot did not put down her book or glance up to see who entered. For a moment or two, all was silent.
"Your pardon, Miss," said the man at last. "Her ladyship's carriage has arrived."
"Her ladyship's carriage," she murmured. "Already. Thank you, Burton," she said, without looking up. "I shall be ready presently."
Lady Russell was now returned to Bath. Anne had met her for church and their customary luncheon on Sunday, and on Monday, they had shared a drive about town. Today she was to be taken to visit Mrs Smith and later would be joined by Lady Russell for an early tea. But for some reason, this prospect was singularly unappealing.
As she left the house and settled herself inside the carriage, Anne took herself to task for having such an ungrateful attitude. Of course it was enjoyable to be driven to see a friend, although today it felt more like an obligation than otherwise. And Lady Russell's company was always welcome, but ...
She gazed listlessly out of the window as the vehicle began to make its way through the crowded streets. Anne could not give proper structure to her jumbled thoughts. Why was she so dissatisfied? Lady Russell is sympathetic and kind and everything a godmother should be, Anne thought, but ...
The truth was, during Lady Russell's absence, Anne had grown accustomed to the company of another; her godmother's companionship fell sadly flat when compared to his. For Lady Russell's eyes held no sparkle to be wondered at; her frank expressions hid no secret smiles. And there was no bringing her to blurt out outrageous statements, ever. Now that her friend was gone away ...
Anne frowned at the direction her thoughts were taking. It was quite ridiculous to put such stock in the presence or absence of one person. He had been gone only four days; there was absolutely no reason to feel downcast! It took some effort, but Anne wrenched her thoughts away from Captain Benwick and determined to have a pleasant visit with her friend.
But even Mrs Smith's cheerful disposition could not entirely banish Anne's lowness, which was unfortunate, for her friend had not felt so well for a very long time. Dr Minthorne was a regular caller now and Mrs Smith's improvement seemed to be due to his influence. He had spoken to the landlady about changing her diet and he had given her a strict regimen of exercise.
"As if I am a baby, learning to wiggle and move all over again," Mrs Smith confided, with a laugh. "Do you see? I am never to sit still; even now I am to move my legs and toes!"
Anne smiled as cheerfully as she could, ashamed with herself for not having more interest in her friend's welfare. But her attention was arrested as soon as Mrs Smith began speaking of the Assembly. She had heard all about it, courtesy of Colonel Wallis' talkative wife and Nurse Rooke's sharp ears. It was mildly amusing to hear Mrs Smith chat on and on, relating details Anne herself had missed, until this fatal observation was made:
"And I do believe your cousin is quite put out with you, Miss Elliot, which I say serves him right! Mrs Wallis says he was positively incensed with you for holding the Captain's hand as you did!"
Anne was absolutely astonished; she went cold, then hot as she realized that her slight lapse of caution not gone unnoticed -- and had made its way onto the gossip circuit of Bath, to be entertainment for such persons as nurses and invalids! Sir Walter Elliot's second daughter was now seen to be 'mad about a sea captain,' having danced with him three times, and weren't the tongues wagging!
"We danced only twice, I ... think," Anne stuttered. "And he isn't a sea captain, he's ... he's a first officer, or a ... a commander, or ... something!"
"Which explains why he is called "Captain," I am sure," Mrs Smith said with a smile.
Anne was saved from having to answer by the arrival of Lady Russell; she excused herself as quickly could be. But her discomfort regarding the Assembly was far from over, for in front of the Westgate Buildings was Mr Elliot's carriage ... and the man himself was standing beside it, waiting expectantly.
"Mr Elliot and I planned a little surprise for you, Anne," Lady Russell then explained. "He has invited us to tea at that new establishment on George Street. Isn't that delightful? And in the meantime, he and I have had a lovely time getting better acquainted."
Anne very naturally said everything that was proper, but she was far from easy as she entered the vehicle. As usual, Mr Elliot was full of pleasant conversation, but to Anne's dismay it centered around the Assembly, which was the last topic she wanted to discuss. As he talked on about the event, Anne set her teeth and braced herself for the inevitable. Sure enough, soon he was rattling on to Lady Russell about what a graceful dancer his 'lovely cousin' was.
"Yes, Elizabeth is very accomplished," Lady Russell agreed.
"Oh, no," he laughed. "I am certain that she is, but I did not mean Miss Elliot. It is Miss Anne who was so captivating. And do you know, she wore the Elliot sapphires. I am certain they never looked more beautiful on a woman than they did that night."
"Anne? Our Anne ... dancing?"
Anne could feel Lady Russell's interested eyes upon her as Mr Elliot went on to say, in his charming way:
"My period of mourning will be completed in June, Miss Anne. So, before the end of the spring Season I intend to collect my share of dances with you." He leaned forward. "You may consider yourself so engaged."
Anne could think of nothing to say to this. But as she smiled politely at her cousin, a great vexation boiled up within her toward the person who had forced her into this position -- the one who had made her dance against her will. Surely he was the most provoking man alive!
At that same moment, another was expressing a similar opinion, as he and James made their way through the City in the direction of Bloomsbury.
"You would walk!" Milton Benwick grumbled, his handsome features marred by a scowl.
"You said you were stiff from sitting so long," James replied. "The exercise will do us good. Besides, it is a beautiful spring day."
"I do not mean the physical exertion! It is simply the indignity of it! We, who tomorrow morning will be quite wealthy men, tramping all this way on foot as though we were paupers ..."
"Wealthy? We are to be so only at your word," James interrupted. "And from what I know of the estate, our 'fortune' will make us merely independent. But then, I have not seen the latest will, so I cannot properly say."
"Great heaven, are we back to this? What a spoilsport you are!" Milton sputtered. "It is not necessary for you to preview it, James! Don't you trust me? Everything's in order; though I won't say the allocation is entirely even-handed." He gave his brother a sidelong look before continuing. "It's just that with those Braxton cousins nagging at me to know its contents, the fewer who have seen it, the better!"
"I am not a disinherited Braxton; I am co-executor," James grumbled back.
"Yes, yes, I told them that. And that you are as much in the dark about the contents as they, until tomorrow. That buttoned them up." Milton replied smugly.
"But not for long. Unless I miss my guess, you shall have your hands full tomorrow."
Milton gave a snort. "Yes, we shall, Captain Co-executor!" But his steps slowed as he began to take in the neighbourhood.
"Er, I say, James, this is Holborn! Let's not go this way; we can cut up to Clerkenwell Road, instead."
"Clerkenwell! But that'll take us many blocks out of our way!"
"All the same, it's best we go around. This neighborhood is full of ... insalubrious characters."
"Insal-what-did-you-say?" Even after so many years, James was unused to his brother's educated airs. He smiled wickedly. "Milton, you should avoid using an esoteric vocabulary unless you know the definitions."
Milton glared at him.
"I am sorry, brother," James grinned and resumed walking. "I do not see any insalubrious characters here. Perhaps you could point them out to me."
"Keep your voice down, James, or you will draw a crowd. Of course they don't show themselves openly. Cutthroats and the like never do, until it is too late."
"Cutthroats?" James stopped and stared at his brother in mock astonishment. He looked up and down the busy street. "Here?" he asked, with as straight a face as possible.
"You do not know London as I do, Brother," Milton muttered trenchantly. "Clerkenwell is this way."
"And you know nothing about cutthroats, if you think they reside here!"
"I suppose you do?"
"Of course I do! With whom do you think I've been dealing these past eleven years? Fully half our crew were thoroughgoing barbarians! Second cousins to Attila the Hun! And besides, you know what they say about the Navy."
"Oh, yes," Milton smirked. "The Navy: Pirates in Uniform."
"Seriously, Milton, this is a perfectly civilized part of town. I have no intention of going out of my way to circumvent it. Come along."
Milton held back. "James ...."
James gave an exasperated snort and folded his arms across his chest. "Milton Benwick, you are nothing but a ... weenie!"
"A weenie! A coward and a weakling! You, who are a full head taller than I! Look, I have a letter to post as soon as possible, so I haven't the time to dodge the cutthroats," James explained. "I am armed; the first insalubrious brute who tries anything gets hacked to pieces, understood? Now, let's go!"
The remainder of their tramp was accomplished in silence. The elder Benwick, greatly uncomfortable, peered anxiously at the faces of the passers-by. James, on the other hand, soon forgot the lurking danger and lost himself in thoughts of the letter he had written.
It was three pages of nonsense, really: odd details about his journey and his family -- including his eldest brother's mismanagement of the week's events. The urgent meeting he had set for Monday ended up being cancelled; there had been no need to leave Bath in the wee hours of the morning as he had. But James was past caring about that. The Assembly had been perfectly wonderful; he would not change a single detail, even his early departure. He looked down at his gloved left hand and tenderly closed it into a fist, remembering. Anne had smiled to see him; they had danced together. And she had held his hand for all that time. James had hardly slept for the joy of such things.
Presently the brothers reached Morgan Street and entered their brothers' mercantile. Molly Benwick came from behind the counter; a look of concern clouded her pleasant face.
"Oh, James," she exclaimed. "You didn't get the message in time. Ben wanted to meet you at Bellingham's at three. He's seeing a supplier right across the street and thought it would be just the thing. We sent a note to the solicitor's, but ..."
As James reassured her about his ability to keep the appointment, Milton wandered through the interior of the shop. He did not often venture to do so but curiosity got the better of him today. "It shall be an immense relief to the Family, I am sure," he said at last, after James had gone upstairs to fetch his letter, "... when you are able to sell out of this trade for good."
Little Molly folded her arms across her chest and looked up at her tall brother-in-law with a defiant sparkle in her brown eyes. "Who said anything about selling out?"
"My dear Sister, I meant no offense. But I am certain you will not wish to continue this way once you have the inheritance. In Trade, and all." Milton wrinkled his nose distastefully. "I mean, really."
"And why not?" Molly faced him squarely. "With prices rising the way they are, and banks failing, we have every reason to stay in business! We have worked very hard for what we have, Milton. Certainly we will make some changes ... take on extra help and the like ... for Ben wants to free Daniel to continue his theological studies, but ..."
"Following in Father's footsteps is he?" Milton gave his brother's wife a look of great pity. "What an unfortunate decision."
James re-entered the room on the heels of this comment, a little out of breath from taking the stairs at a run. With a wave to his sister-in-law and a parting admonition to Milton to hail a hack before the afternoon rush set in, he was on his way. In his breast pocket was the letter; he happily rehearsed its contents as he walked.
It was when he pictured Anne's smile as she opened it that he realised his mistake. Anne Elliot was not Fanny Harville, that is, they were not yet engaged. Of course she could not properly receive correspondence from him! It was a most discouraging thought. But the walk was a long one, and as made his way through the crowded streets, James continued to think. And as he did, his melancholy began to lift. Nearly every obstacle had a way around, if one could only find it.
James' steps slowed as he considered which of Anne's friends he could enlist as a delivery agent for his letter. Miss Carteret might oblige him, but a married woman would be better. Mrs Clay was out of the question, but ... Mrs Smith? Though he had met her only once, James felt sure of her cooperation -- and he could send the letter through Dr. Minthorne. The hitch was Mrs Smith's house-bound state. James could not risk any delays, for contained in the letter was an invitation for tea on Friday, at a quiet little tea room where he and Anne could talk. This time, he wanted no interference from Mary, or Charles, or anyone else from Camden Place!
As he drew near to the location for his appointment, James' attention was claimed by the window of a novelty shop. He checked his timepiece and wandered inside, still thinking about his dilemma. It was as he stood before a display of writing paper that the glorious solution presented itself. James nearly laughed at its simplicity. He needn't have a woman deliver his letter; he needed only to make it appear as if a woman was the sender!
At Bellingham's, a quarter-hour later, James chose a table in the corner and ordered his tea. There was no telling how late Ben would be, but this time he didn't mind the delay, for there was work to be done. At a table nearby sat a trio of chattering young women, but he didn't mind that disturbance, either. With great care he unwrapped his purchases: a pen, ink and sealing wax, and the most womanish hot-pressed writing paper he had ever seen. The edges of it were prettily scalloped, the paper itself was embossed with a floral design, and best of all, along the four sides of it were masses of hand-tinted flowers, in varying shades of pink and lavender. What pleased him even more was the purple ink; it was just the sort of thing a very silly woman would use when writing to a friend.
"Elona, honestly now," came a voice from the neighbouring table. "You really should wear your pale green hat with the pheasant plumes and wax grapes tomorrow. Maribella, I've one just like it," the voice explained, "and the last time I wore it, Mr Raddle and Mr Masham were completely spellbound! They were absolutely driven to distraction from the moment they set eyes on me!"
"If we are so admired now, Hallie, what shall happen in April when the Season truly begins?" gushed her companion.
"That settles it; I simply must have a hat like that one," declared the third. "For I desire to bring Mr Quirimit to his knees as soon as may be! Or Mr Theakston. I cannot decide between them, so I might as well have both."
As the women dissolved into laughter, James Benwick quietly drew a small notebook and a pencil from his pocket. A smile played about his lips as he began to take some rapid notes. He had wondered what sort of girlish message to write on that stationery, a message which would likely be read by Anne's father and sisters. Now he knew.
After a shaky beginning, Anne's outing with Lady Russell and her cousin became quite enjoyable. The tea room was an elegant establishment, with striped paper on the walls in pale green and gold, tall potted palms, canaries in gold cages, and a harpist to entertain the guests. Best of all, Mr Elliot did not quiz her any more about the Assembly, but instead talked pleasantly on a variety of subjects. However, it seemed to Anne that he showed a great deal more emotion than usual. His smiles were brighter, his frowns, more sympathetic, and his laughter, merry. From time to time, Anne caught him looking at her with quite an odd expression on his face. But when Lady Russell left them alone for a few moments, she had the greatest surprise of all, for he made a curious request: to speak about matters of the heart. Without waiting for her answer, he boldly plunged ahead.
"What you said the other evening about poetry touching the depths of the human soul intrigued me very much. And I ..." Mr Elliot smiled self consciously and began to toy with a silver teaspoon. At last, he laid it down and said, "I scarcely know how to tell you this. I know you think me an irreverent, uncultured dog, Miss Anne ...
"That is not true, Mr Elliot."
"Mmmm. You're right; Faust was an educated man. Let us say, then, that I have not as elegant and cultivated a mind as yours," he replied. "Nevertheless, your company has not been without its influence. I am undergoing somewhat of a personal ... metamorphosis, dear Cousin. That is, after so many years, I am coming to discover that I do have a heart of flesh, after all!"
A flush began to rise to his cheeks, as he said, with a catch in his voice, "I beg your pardon. I find myself quite overcome by a ... a burst of ... feeling." He gave her a quick look, then drew a slim book from his pocket. "You see, your comments about poetry provoked me to open this volume last night. I was astonished by the sentiments I found there. My very soul was laid bare!"
"Poetry also expresses the joys of the human heart, Mr Elliot," Anne offered.
"But the sorrows, Miss Anne, the sorrows!" he cried passionately. "You see, at one time, when I was very young, I had a secret which I shared with no one. I ... loved a girl. I had nearly forgotten the heartbreak of it ... I had so deeply buried the pain ..." He fumbled to open the book. "May I read the piece which in so few lines tells my sad story?"
Never seek to tell thy love,
Love that never told can be;
For the gentle wind does move
I told my love, I told my love,
I told her all my heart,
Trembling, cold, in ghastly fears,
Ah! she doth depart.
Soon as she was gone from me,
A traveller came by,
He took her with a sigh.
William Elliot closed the book and sat staring at it for a time. "She did not ... want me," he said in a low voice. "And she met and married another soon after. Cousin Anne, I am ashamed to admit it, but then and there I resolved to find a woman who would love me, first and foremost. And, as you know, I did. We were miserable together."
"I am very sorry, Mr Elliot," Anne said quietly. "Perhaps Mr Blake is right. Perhaps it is best not to share the secret of one's love until one is certain the sentiments are reciprocated."
"Oh." He looked up at her and attempted a wobbly smile. A moment later he was fishing in his pocket for a handkerchief.
Out of politeness, Anne looked away, but her heart went out to him. Could it be that Mr Elliot was actually blinking back tears?
Above the store on Morgan Street and behind locked doors, the four Benwick brothers faced one another around the bare, oval dining table. With them was Mr Beckington, their great aunt's solicitor.
"Before we commence with our business, may I once again offer my most sincere apologies for the delay in settling this estate," said he, in his formal way. "Our client was extremely concerned with the security of this document, which is why it was stored in our vault here in London and not with her other papers in Bath." Mr Beckington looked over the top of his spectacles; his lips twitched into something like a smile. "We accomplished her objective, though perhaps more thoroughly than she intended. You are to be commended for your patience, gentlemen.
"Now then," he continued, "what we are about to do tonight is a little unorthodox, that is, to divide Mrs Wrenwyth's jewelry before the will has been properly read. However, as the four Benwick brothers are specifically stated as the sole inheritors of said property, I do not see that this presents a problem. In fact, it may be prudent to accomplish this now, before the, er, 'spectacle' commences. I understand you are expecting some squabbling tomorrow with a disinherited branch of the family. You may rest easy on this point, gentlemen. Mrs Wrenwyth was aware of this possibility and took every legal precaution to prevent the will from being overset."
Mr Beckington then nodded at four jewelry cases which occupied the center of the table. "You have your military brother to thank for the condition of these pieces; they have been catalogued, cleaned, and professionally appraised. Attached to each is a card bearing its valuation. I submit that we keep a numeric tally, each brother ending with a comparable total. Some of these jewels you quite possibly have never seen; other pieces may appear to be missing. The latter are items specifically bequeathed as gifts; those shall be dealt with tomorrow. There is one I shall distribute now, however." He passed a sealed envelope to James.
"You have probably been wondering about the whereabouts of this ring, Captain. It was given to me at the time the will was signed, with the accompanying message. Now then, shall we begin?"
A smile of anticipation had just begun to spread across Milton's face when Daniel Benwick spoke up.
"May I suggest that we begin with prayer," he said. "And, considering our great aunt's reverence for the Scriptures, mightn't we proceed in a more Bibline manner than is commonly done? That is, shall we give application to the text, 'So, the last shall be first and the first, last ...'?"
"What does that mean?" Milton asked suspiciously.
"That means you are last, Brother," James grinned, "and I, next to last. I second the motion, Dan. An excellent idea."
"By all means," Ben piped up. "Down with primogeniture!"
"But I ..." Milton's handsome face began to redden. "This is outside of enough!" he muttered. "First, the three of you refuse to allow the wives to be present, and now, this!"
"A most prudent decision, Mr Benwick, I must say," Mr Beckington put in. "When it comes to women selecting family jewels for themselves, the most common result is unmannerly haggling and lacerated sensibilities, not to mention hours of wasted time. I salute you, gentlemen, for your wisdom."
After a brief prayer (led by the reluctant Milton), the jewelry cases were opened and passed from brother to brother for inspection. Ben and Daniel soon left the table to hunt through the sideboard for as many extra candles as they could find. These took up much of the available table space, but they also shed a great deal more light on the gems.
"Very well, very well," Milton grumbled impatiently, as soon as all of the jewelry sets had made their way around the table. "Let's get on with it, Benjamin."
Without a moment's hesitation, Ben took hold of a square, flat case. He removed the card and handed it to Mr Beckington to record on his sheet.
"Good G-d!" Milton cried. "You're a bachelor! Whatever will you do with that?"
"The diamond set? The same as you," Ben replied, as he deftly closed the lid and latched it. "I'll give it to a lady to wear. But this is not for a lady of mine; it is a gift, from Dan and me." He pushed the case to James. "For the daughter of the baronet, Jamie," he said softly. "And in repayment for your gift to us."
"Harrumph!" Milton appeared to be most uneasy at the mention of a 'repayment.' He interrupted James' protest to Ben and motioned to his next youngest brother. "Get along, Dan! You're next. Let's get this over with."
But the more Daniel examined the jewels, the more uncomfortable he became. "Molly doesn't wear such things," he finally confessed. "Perhaps I was wrong in asking her not to come, for she would know which to choose ..."
"What about the pearls," James suggested.
"The pearls?!" Milton cried. "But Estella told me be sure to ..." He clamped his mouth shut and glared.
"Molly will like those," Ben put in. "A string of pearls is simple, yet elegant."
"I thought of that," Daniel agreed. "But I wanted to give her rubies ... though she probably wouldn't wear the necklace ... or the earrings ... or any of the rest. But a ruby ring would be nice. You know," he stammered, as a blush rose to his cheeks. "As in the text a-about the good wife? 'A virtuous woman who can find? for her price is far above rubies.' " Daniel lowered his gaze and ran his fingers over the shiny surface of the table. He had been married nearly a year, but he was shy of expressing his tender feelings before his brothers.
"We shouldn't break up the sets," Milton ordered. "Choose one or the other." Daniel chose the pearls.
James' turn came next, and he immediately selected the balas rubies. He was surprised at how simple the decision was, once he pictured Anne wearing a claret-coloured gown. The case held a necklace, earrings, two bracelets, and two rings. He held out both of the latter to his younger brother. "Which of these would Molly like?" he asked.
"We shouldn't break up the sets," Milton repeated.
"I'm not. I'm giving Daniel a gift," James replied. "Besides, what does it matter? He wants a ruby ring and I have two."
"Estella said not to break up the ..."
"Estella will have the emerald ensemble, which will look very well with her light hair," Ben put in, "so I doubt you'll have any trouble with her."
"But she specifically wanted ... oh, never mind!" Milton grumbled, as he took hold of the case which held the emeralds.
The remaining pieces were then brought out. These incidental items were more easily divided, although Milton made a fuss about a missing necklace.
"Yes, that would be the string of seed pearls," Mr Beckington said, as he consulted a document in his stack. "That item was bequeathed to ... a Miss W. Owen as you'll recall, Mr Benwick."
"Oh, yes, the mysterious Miss Owen." Milton's voice was laced with sarcasm. "One hundred pounds as dowry and the seed pearl necklace. Quite a wind-fall for her, whoever she is."
"She's a neighbour who has been very kind and helpful, as an occasional companion and nurse," James said. "But Estella won't eat you; I see you have the chrysoberyl bracelet and the baroque pearl brooch in your pile."
"I was hoping to find the pearl ring," Milton replied. "But I suppose that's been given to some other lowly person."
"An apt description of the four of us, now that you mention it," James murmured, as he pushed back his chair and stretched his limbs.
At last, the totals were tallied and the meeting was concluded. James was quite glad to retire early that night; it had been an eventful, exhausting day. As he readied himself for bed, he could feel every one of the miles he had tramped; it was good to slide beneath the blankets and rest his aching feet. He smiled maliciously as he wondered whether Milton was as sore. James rather hoped he was.
He lay back and studied the ceiling as he thought some more about his brother. What a tyrant the man has become, he grumbled to himself. Milton had wasted no opportunity to exert his supposed authority wherever possible. His peremptory manner was certainly nothing new, though it seemed to be worsening with time. An inheritance must evoke either the best or the worst qualities in people, James decided with a sigh.
He turned onto his side, yawned, and took a final look around the bedchamber. No doubt the rooms he now occupied were those Ben had offered with the partnership. His brother had been right, they were snug and comfortable, at least, they were so from a bachelor's point of view. James lips twisted into a smile as he thought about Anne living here with him. Would she? Would she be happy in London? He slid over to the far edge of the narrow bed, as if making room for her to lie beside him. Diamonds and rubies were all very well, but what he wouldn't give to have Anne here as his wife, tonight. He closed his eyes and once again held her tightly in his arms, as he had on that bench at Uppercross. Only this time, she was wearing a flimsy nightdress, with her brown hair flowing over her shoulders. And when he looked down at her, her large brown eyes held a welcoming smile ...
James opened his eyes. It never did any good to continue thinking this way; he would likely keep himself awake most of the night. When he leaned to blow out the candle, he remembered the envelope Beckington had given to him. To aid in focusing his thoughts elsewhere, James heaved himself out of the bed and hunted in the pockets of his frock coat.
The envelope contained a slip of paper bearing his name and a woman's ring. James held the ring in the palm of his hand and gazed at it in wonder. It was the pearl and diamond ring his brother had been hunting for; Aunt Agatha had worn it for as long as he could remember. She had given it to him, with a note which simply said: To begin again.
James slid the ring onto his little finger (it came only to his first knuckle) and blew out the candle. He smiled into the darkness. He had been given a beautiful ring to put onto the precious hand which had so trustingly held his ... and tomorrow he would become a man of independent means, able to protect and provide for her.
And together we'll find a comfortable house in the country, once Chauntecleer is sold, he mused. It would pain him to see the old house go, but he set those thoughts aside as his dream began to grow. Anne was quite taken with Lyme. Perhaps an idyllic country house ... on a rise of land overlooking the sea ... with a garden ... James lay back on his pillow as visions of a pretty brick house in the midst of an orchard filled his mind. With roses on an arched trellis, he added, ... pink roses for Anne ... and a garden choked with flowers. Let's see, we'll have larkspur, delphinium, honeysuckle, and ... He searched his mind for the name of the pink border flower with fringed petals and the spicy scent.
James' grin widened as the name came to mind. No, he would definitely not be including any 'Sweet William' in the dear little cottage garden of his dreams!
"Good night, my dear. Sleep well."
William Elliot straightened from bowing over his cousin's hand and gave her a winsome smile. Though it was only ten o'clock, Anne was tired and was retiring early. He watched as she moved away from him and made her way to the door.
Have I overdone it? he wondered uneasily. Is she running away ... from me? He had given her hand a tender squeeze after he kissed it. It was a little much, but he was powerless to stop himself from expressing his preference for her. In such a short time, Anne's approval had come to mean so much! A word from her, a smile, a simple meeting of the eyes was all it took to cause his heart to race in a new and alarming way.
As the drawing room door closed behind her, William strolled over to the fire and stood looking into the flames. He simply must win Anne's heart, and soon, before the sailor returned. However, he had had a private conversation with Anne's godmother that afternoon which had been most instructive. The woman was very guarded in speaking about Anne; it had taken him some time to penetrate her defenses. He at last decided to abandon all pretense and plainly confess his preference for her. Even then, she told him very little.
"Anne is a romantic, though in other ways she is very practical," Lady Russell had said. "She has told me that you are somewhat of a puzzle to her, Mr Elliot. She cannot comprehend your character."
This was nothing new; Anne had told him as much in her own words. But he had been absurdly pleased to hear that Anne had thought about him, had talked with others about wanting to understand him. It was a most encouraging sign. Lady Russell's next comment was even more helpful.
"Above all, Anne values an open, expressive temperament, Mr Elliot. She has mentioned that you are too generally agreeable. She has said that you show no burst of feeling, either of indignation or delight. I think she would prefer that you did."
Since that time, William had been endeavouring to show such 'bursts' whenever possible. That he should become an enthusiast for poetry was obvious; he had spent many hours poring through Colonel Wallis' collection of books to find just the right verses for Anne. He had been amazed at how that poem by Blake, which he read to Anne that afternoon, had worked to open her heart. And his confession of boyhood passion for Cilla Holland, which needed only a slight exaggeration of the ages to fit the poem, had functioned nicely, as well.
But deep down he knew that to win Anne's affections by trick or artifice would be a hollow victory. William wanted more; he wanted her whole heart to be his very own, given (and received) in sincere adoration.
"Well, Ben," James said, as he set down his bag and faced his brother. "It has been a most eventful day. I won't keep you waiting for the coach." He held out a hand and forced a smile. "Good-bye."
Ben's response was to take hold of James' bag and lug it to a deserted bench. "I'll wait," he grunted.
James sighed. Now he would need to be cheerful and conversant until the coach arrived, two things he did not want to do just now. He felt his brother's eyes on him, watching his every move. This reminded him of the catlike way Harville had watched him during his early days in Lyme. Is it so obvious? he thought wearily.
"It certainly has been an eventful day," James repeated heartily, as he lowered himself onto the bench beside his brother. "Not a peep from the Braxtons, which was quite a surprise. No noise from Estella, either, though I would call that a surprise and a relief, wouldn't you?" James knew he was rambling, but he could not help himself. "And so, it is over. We now go our separate ways, move on, adjust to the changes ... "
Ben scuffed the sole of his shoe against the cobbled pavement. "It did not turn out so very badly, did it? I'm sorry about Sir Robin, and all. None of us expected that."
James sighed. Over the years Ben had grown better at not putting his foot immediately into a sore spot; apparently today was an exception. "It was an afterthought of Aunt Agatha's, obviously," he mumbled. "He needed to be cared for. She saw to it."
"Yes. But you will be adequately compensated ..." Ben's tone was hopeful.
James' was not. "Eventually," he said.
Ben opened his mouth and then shut it. Neither brother said anything for a long while. The silence hung between them, though the coaching yard was noisy and active. James checked his timepiece, and both men looked on as a vehicle was brought forward and readied. Ben shifted a basket on his lap, with a glance to his brother. He pulled out his own watch, gave James a long, speculative look, and at last said:
"This is all my fault, James. If you must blame someone, blame me."
James gave his brother a weary smile. "I fail to see how you ..."
"I told her," Ben burst out. "I told Aunt Agatha! G-d, James, you know how she was! She weaseled it out of me, when I visited her the last time! About your gifts to the three of us! How was I to know that two weeks later she would change the will like this? I'm ... sorry."
"Benjamin," James groaned. " You swore up and down you would say noth ..."
"I know! I know." Ben hung his head in remorse. "Raise all the dust you like!" he muttered. "Though you'll not say anything I haven't told myself already! I feel like ... Judas."
James was silent a long while before he said, "You are nothing at all like Judas. Your tongue may run on wheels but you're no traitor; your heart is in the right place. It can't be helped; what's done is done. Now I understand why Milton didn't want me previewing the will."
"I think Estella was jealous," Ben offered. "Milton, too."
"They wanted the house, that is all," James replied flatly. "And to think I was so adamant about the estate not selling it to them! Well, there's no fear of that now. I suppose I've no choice but to become a fixture in Bath," he mumbled, " until I am fortunate enough to be called back to sea."
"Speaking of Bath, here." Ben thrust the basket he had been holding into his brother's hands. "It's your dinner. And handle it carefully," he added. "The gift from last night's in the bottom, under the sausages."
"Keep it, Ben."
"It's not for you," Ben smiled. "It's for the daughter of the baronet, remember?"
James looked at the basket and sighed. "There isn't going to be any 'daughter of the baronet' in my future, Ben," he said softly.
"What do you mean? Of course there will."
"Things have shaken out rather differently than I expected, money-wise. I thought ... But I was too precipitate! Which is a laugh, isn't it, for that's just what I accused Milton of doing! I counted the chickens before they hatched, even before I had the basket of eggs in my hand! What a fool I've been!"
"But what about the girl?" Ben faltered. "She cares for you, Jamie; I saw it! You can't just walk away from her ..."
"What you saw was friendship, Ben, not love," James replied. "Anne has a sweet disposition and very lovely manners, but I must remind myself that love, genuine love, rejoiceth in the truth. And so, I must be honest with myself. She has never once expressed a preference for me, other than as her friend."
"But you love her ..." Ben objected.
"Yes. But love vaunteth not itself, it seeketh not its own," James' voice was husky with emotion. "I love Anne with all my heart, but I cannot be selfish. I want that which is best for her; I want her to be ... happy," he whispered. "Anne does not love me, not in the way she has loved another. And she loathes Bath. Aside from my heart and a very modest income, I have nothing to offer. It is best that I fade quietly from her life."
The coach had now begun to load. James stood, put the basket into Ben's unwilling hands and in silence joined the other passengers at the vehicle's door. He had a wearisome journey before him, yes, and an appointment to keep at a tea room on Friday. That appointment, which had been arranged with such joy, now looked to be the worst ordeal of all.
Quotation: Never Seek to Tell Thy Love, by William Blake
"Anne, dear. What have you there?"
Anne jumped to hear her godmother's voice so close at hand. Apparently, Lady Russell had heard the altercation at the main door and had come out of the drawing room to inquire. She now peered over Anne's shoulder to better see what she held.
"It is a letter for Father," Anne replied. She frowned as she read the direction. "From ... 'Madderly, Kinclaven, and Planque.' What do you suppose that business is?"
There was a slight pause before Lady Russell answered. "It is a financial institution here in Bath." She took the letter out of Anne's hands and looked at it more narrowly. "Why was this not sent through the post? Is Mr Shepherd no longer handling your father's affairs?"
"He is. But the gentleman at the door wished to give it directly to Father ... and Burton refused. So I took it."
Lady Russell's lips compressed into a line. "It was most improper to allow the man to give it to you, Anne. Your butler is well able to deal with this sort of thing."
"I understand that, Lady Russell, Anne replied quietly, "but this is not Kellynch Hall. Father should realise that he cannot dodge his obligations here. It will only get worse ..." Anne's eyes clouded with the memory of something she had pushed out of her mind. "He should accustom himself to such ... unpleasantness, for by summer's end ..." Anne broke off speaking, took back the letter, and headed for the small bookroom her father used as an office. Lady Russell followed hard at her heels.
"Unpleasantness? What do you mean, 'unpleasantness'?"
Anne did not turn to face her godmother until she reached the bookroom door. "I might as well tell you," she said quietly. "The Crofts are leaving Kellynch in September. They will not be renewing the lease." Anne then entered the room and placed her father's letter on the desk.
"You cannot be serious!" Lady Russell came fully into the room and shut the door. "The leasing of the Hall has everything to do with your father's financial recovery!" she exclaimed. "Without it, you cannot continue ..."
"We cannot continue here, yes, I know. We shall return to Kellynch," Anne replied, as calmly as she could. "Elizabeth plans to have a husband by then, so it will be just the two of us. Perhaps I shall finally convince Father to live in a more restrained manner."
"I see." Lady Russell fell silent for a moment, thinking. "If your sister is cherishing hopes of a proposal from Mr Elliot," she said carefully, "she would do well to banish them. However, if she has this Mr Rushworth in mind ... why, a marriage to him would be most prudent, under the circumstances." She laid her head to one side and added, "You wouldn't be similarly inclined, would you, Anne?"
"To marry someone like that? For security?" Anne cried. "I should say not!"
"It is a bit extreme, yes, but then so are your sister's financial requirements. Well, as I have said before, my home is ever open to you, my dear, should you decide not to include matrimony in your future. I think we should get on splendidly together."
"You are very good ..." Anne murmured. She was feeling increasingly uncomfortable and wanted nothing more than to escape. It was as though the pleasant events of the past three weeks were all forgotten, for the worry and burden of the retrenchment were back to dominate her mind with a vengeance.
"But to lose the lease ..." Lady Russell bit her lip and again regarded the letter on the desk. "That is a terrible blow to your poor father! His manly honour will be so offended and compromised! And how shall another situation be found? For he shall never consent to advertise! You do realise that it was the mercy of Providence that the Crofts were found at all! If only he could find another tenant to provide the income he requires ..."
"Income?!" Anne sputtered. "I am sick to death of hearing about income! Since everything hinges upon money, why doesn't Father marry for it, himself? Indeed, I am surprised he has not done so long before this! Though it appears he is likely to marry for flattery, instead!"
"Why, Anne ..."
"He is handsome enough! And Elizabeth is beautiful enough! Let them do as they wish! But spare me the agonies of such a cold-blooded alliance, if you please!"
Lady Russell was silent for a moment. Then she said softly, "My dear, there is another gentleman who I believe has a sincere interest ..."
"I am sick to death of hearing about him, too!" Anne cried. To her great annoyance, she found that tears were welling up in her eyes. "Pray excuse me, Lady Russell," she stammered hoarsely. "I ... I have the headache!" And without another word, Anne whisked herself out of the room.
Once free of her godmother, Anne headed for the stairway and climbed to the upper floor. "He would make me to dance in front of all those people," she complained, as she brushed her tears aside. "And then, what does he do but go away! He is the most aggravating man alive! And when he gets back, I'll ... I'll ..."
Anne could not think of anything horrible enough to do to him, and this only added to her ire. "If I never see him again, it will be too soon!" She pulled open the door to her bedchamber with great force.
With all her heart Anne longed to slam that door as she had seen her sisters do, but she could not. It was closed with a restrained and quiet click. Anne then dropped onto her bed and buried her head in her hands. There was no telling when James Benwick would return so that she could give him a piece of her mind.
But I have certainly given it to everyone else, haven't I? she thought miserably. I was rude to my godmother, I said unkind things about my father and Elizabeth ... Anne squeezed her eyes shut and slumped over to lay fully on the bed as another sob rose in her throat. It had been only a week and she was so painfully alone, with such a burden.
Why won't he come? she whispered into her pillow.
With a weary sigh, James Benwick retraced his steps. The hack had turned the corner and was gone from Chaucer Court -- and he was left to stand on the walk by himself. Now came the moment he dreaded; all day he had steeled himself against the emotions he knew would come with his arrival. But he could not put off the inevitable, so he took up his bags and walked slowly to the main entrance. He paused and ran his gloved fingers over the shining nameplate beside the door.
"Chauntecleer," he whispered, and at last he gazed up at the house. It did not look so much like the prison the will had made it out to be. James pulled his hand away and sighed. Never had he been so torn between pride and disappointment.
Yee had the door open before he could knock and soon Benwick's bags, coat, and hat were relinquished into the man's care. He murmured a greeting and then informed Yee of his plans for the remainder of the afternoon and evening. Though he was fatigued from the journey, there was much to be done. He must meet with the Yees to discuss the settlement for their family, as well as to learn of their future plans. And then, of course, he must have a talk with Sir Robin.
Benwick slowly climbed the stairs to his bedchamber, thankful that Yee would be arranging a hot bath. But he had not been in his bedchamber long before he came back out with a perplexed expression on his face. None of his things were in the room. When he could not locate any of the servants upstairs, James went back in and took hold of the bell pull. And as he did, the truth of the situation dawned on him.
Again he left the room, but this time he gravely made his way to his great uncle's quarters. At the door he hesitated, for he had not been inside for many years. At last, he turned the handle and pushed the door open. The room was warm and well-lit; a fire burned cheerfully on the grate. James tiptoed inside and looked around in wonder. In the rosy candlelight, the mahogany wainscoting shone with new polish, a thick carpet cushioned his footfalls. He blinked in surprise; somehow, somewhere, Yee had managed to find a nautical painting to hang above the mantel. Dominating the room was his great uncle's massive bed -- and upon it, his own nightshirt and robe were neatly laid out.
Of course, James sighed. I'll be the one occupying these rooms now.
As he looked about, he could see more evidence of the Yees' work. Everything was prepared for his bath; only the hot water was lacking. The rest of dressing room was empty, save for his few uniforms and the clothes which had lately arrived from the tailor's. He had had his final fitting for these suits before he left for London, and here they were, perhaps the finest clothing he had ever owned. They had been ordered in hope and anticipation, but now ...
Benwick fingered the soft wool of the sleeve of one of the frock coats and wondered at the timing of the delivery. It must be the charcoal gray for his meeting with Anne tomorrow, he decided. No longer would he wear the uniform when he was with her. If she had a tender spot in her heart for naval fellows, he did not want to encourage it.
However, these were wondrous quarters and James could not help but be pleased that they were to be his very own. An oversized leather chair beckoned to him from its place before the fire; James wandered over to it, sat, and took in the silence. Only the hiss and snap of the fire bore him company. Presently he bent, pulled off his boots, and tossed them nosily to the floor. It was too quiet. This house needed the lively bustle of a family, his time with the Harvilles had taught him that. This house needed a mistress, a wife. It needed ...
James set his teeth and pushed the thought of Anne from his mind. It was impossible; there was no sense dwelling on what could not be. And here am I, the Master of all I survey ... almost ... and I am alone, he thought, with a grimace. What a way to spend my first evening at home.
Benwick had always found the library to be less lonely, and so after his bath, his meeting with the Yees, and an early dinner, he took himself there to do a little bookwork. He pulled out his copy of the will and spread it on the desk.
Presently Old Mr Yee brought in the coffee. He took his time in placing the cup and saucer on the desk, all the while keeping Benwick under close observation.
"You are not happy, sir," the old man remarked at last, as he poured the steaming liquid into the cup. "Perhaps you regret that we stay on?"
"Great heaven, no!" Benwick exclaimed. "I am immensely grateful that you are! It is simply that ... things have not turned out as I expected. It will take some time to ... accustom myself ... to the arrangements, that is all."
"Ah. Not as you expect," Old Mr Yee repeated softly. "But of course. How thankful am I not to be a young man. Many are the disappointments of the young."
He continued to study Benwick as he returned the coffee pot to the tray. "You do not care for the house, Captain? Or is it that you do not wish to share it with Sir Robin?" His face remained impassive, though his words betrayed a more thorough knowledge of the will than he had previously let on. "I cannot believe this to be true," he added.
"I had planned on receiving a monetary settlement," Benwick murmured. "It was not my intention to live in Bath."
Very slowly, Old Mr Yee added the cream and sugar to the cup. "You think she will not like this house?"
James squirmed at the uncanny accuracy of this remark. "I think I will not be able to afford to live in this house," he shot back.
"Ah. Then you have not examined the will thoroughly." Old Mr Yee nodded at the pages on the desk. "Read again, sir. Read carefully. Madam was most particular about the wording of your portion; many hours she work on it. Mister Beckington was quite, shall I say, ex-asper-ated with such metic-u-lous-ness." Old Mr Yee rolled the words off his tongue with a tiny smile of pleasure.
"I have read it, many times," James replied wearily, and he took the cup and saucer the butler held out. "The contents of the house are mine to dispose of at will. So, when I can no longer afford to heat the place, I may sell off the furniture, and the artwork, and the Chinese porcelain ... and sit on the floor whilst I stare at the empty walls! I do not call that helpful, Yee." Benwick took a sip of the coffee, and added, "Aunt Agatha had a predilection for ... drastically rearranging my life, that is all."
"So. You have not forgiven her, even after all these years." Old Mr Yee placed a silver fork and a napkin on the desk beside the cup. "She feared you would not," he said softly.
"What are you talking about?"
Old Mr Yee looked up. "Your ... induction into Navy, sir. That is the right English word, is it not?"
"That was many years ago," Benwick murmured.
"But have you forgiven?"
"Of course I have!"
"Ah. I see." Old Mr Yee replaced the containers of cream and sugar on his silver tray with precision. "A man who has forgiven fully does not say, 'of course' in just that way," he said quietly. "You do not yet understand the severe kindness of her love."
"Kindness?" James grumbled. He did not wish to discuss this old wound with anyone, much less with this man, but he could not help himself. "Was it kindness that sent me to sea, while my indifferent and lazy brother was packed off to University? I worked for years to that end, and yet Milton ..." He could not finish the sentence.
Old Mr Yee spoke very deliberately. "Your brother is the sort of man who needs a goad and a whip to be taught, whereas you ..."
"Whereas I, who desired it with all my heart, was denied!" James interrupted. "She sent me into the Navy, though God only knows why! I was never suited for that life! It was such a waste!" He then realised what he had said, and lowered his eyes to stare at the cup of coffee.
"Do not forget, Madam sent books while you were at sea, Master Yames. Many, many books. I remember well. What a trouble it was to pack them in canvas, and wrap with oilcloth, and have them crated and brought to shipping office. She knew you would hunger to learn, always. And yet, you must to learn to command, to stand before men as a leader, without fear. Thus, the Navy was chosen for you."
James raised an eyebrow. "I seldom led without fear, Yee," he muttered.
"But you did not run from duty, did you?" Old Mr Yee said, more gently. "And now, look who you have become. You may stand before any man, with dignity and rank of 'Captain.' A great risk Madam took to give you such opportunity. Perhaps one day you will better understand this kind of love."
"I hope so," James murmured. The conversation had unaccountably gone beyond his depth and he suddenly felt very tired.
"Here is your cake, sir." The old butler placed the plate beside the fork and napkin. "Do not despair. You alone she could trust with the care of Sir Robin. Read the will again, after you have rest. It is not so bad as it seem. Remember, it is written, 'In the house of the righteous is much treasure ...' "
"Well? What's wrong?" Elizabeth was dressed for the evening and was about to descend the stairway, when she chanced to meet her sister in the upstairs hall. "Spare me the innocent look, Anne. My choice of gown does not please you?"
Anne was caught off guard by the directness of this remark. Incurably truthful, she murmured, "I am surprised that you are not wearing the emerald necklace with that dress, that is all."
"Do you take me for a fool, Anne, to wear that monstrosity to Sir Clifton's card party?" Elizabeth retorted. "Paste it may now be, but I do not intend to give the gossips an opportunity to examine it first-hand! Mother's pearls are genuine; the old ladies will find no fault with them."
"Paste?" Anne frowned. "None of our gemstones are paste, Elizabeth."
"Good gracious, Anne! Has that sailor caused you to be blind to everything? Elizabeth exclaimed. "Bye-the-bye, I notice that Mother's rose-cut citrine brooch is no longer in its case. You don't happen to have it, do you?
"No ..." Anne breathed. "I keep all of the jewelry locked in the vault. You know that."
"Then it has certainly gone the way of the garnets! For 'cleaning' by that horrid little man! And your amethyst cross pendant is missing too, I'm sorry to say." Elizabeth bent to brush a speck of lint from the skirt of her gown. "I hope it brought a good price. It was a lovely piece."
"But ... that was a gift to me! How can it have been ..."
"... sold? Such was the fate of my diamonds, which Father gave to me himself!" Elizabeth interrupted, in a hard voice. "Do not think you are the only sufferer in this!"
"Your ... birthday gift?"
Elizabeth tossed her head. "He began by selling the odd items first, pieces we would not easily miss, but that was not enough. He has sold more and more, and I believe he is now delving into Mother's better jewelry." A spasm crossed her face, which she quickly brought under control. "The more important pieces are returned to us with paste substitutes, such as the emeralds and my diamonds. The others have simply disappeared."
Anne put out a hand to steady herself against the wall. "How long has this been going on?" she asked quietly.
"Who's to say?" Elizabeth shrugged elaborately. "It began shortly after we came to Bath, I imagine. I did not notice until after you were called back to Mary's." Elizabeth's eyes were bright with angry tears. "At this rate, you and I will be reduced to wearing the estate jewels with our evening attire. Father wouldn't dare to tamper with those, no matter how badly he needs the funds."
Anne swallowed painfully. "Speaking of which, he received a letter today ... from a bank. It was brought to the door by special messenger. I do not suppose it brings good news."
Elizabeth lifted her chin and fixed her eyes on Anne. "Then you and I are very great fools if we do nothing to secure our future provision," she said deliberately. "We have been fairly warned ... by your precious Providence, if you like!" Elizabeth's chin then quivered; she turned abruptly and stalked down the hall.
With a sinking heart, Anne descended alone to the drawing room to endure the remainder of the evening.
William Elliot regarded his reflection one last time and turned away, satisfied. He would be spending the entire evening with his cousins, both for dinner and later, at Sir Clifton's card party. The only blot on the occasion was the person of Penelope Clay. Mr Elliot's carriage seated only four and he was determined that this time Anne would not be left behind. It had taken considerable effort (and an invitation for all to join him at the theatre the following week) before Sir Walter could be convinced to change his mind. Anne was to go and Mrs Clay would remain at Camden Place.
Next, William flipped through the pages of his book of poetry in search of a selection to share with Anne. Since Blake had proven so successful, and his poems were (mercifully) short and easy to comprehend, William began with those. Very quickly he found exactly what he was looking for: a poem about love. He read the words aloud for practice, as he knew excellence in elocution would no doubt impress his fair cousin.
"Love seeketh not itself to please, he intoned to the empty room,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a heaven in hell's despair."
So sung a little clod of clay,
Trodden with the cattle's feet.
William smiled. His darling Anne (for so he called her now) was such an one: sweet, and selfless, and altogether good. The word picture Blake used reminded him of another; something about love being the fragrance a flower gives although it is stepped on. With great eagerness he continued reading.
But a pebble of the brook
Warbled out these metres meet:
"Love seeketh only Self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another's loss of ease,
And builds a hell in heaven's despite."
William Elliot blinked at the page. There was something about that last stanza he did not like, although he could not identify what it was.
"Ah, well," he muttered, and slipped the volume into his pocket. A look at the clock told him that his carriage would soon be arriving to take him to Camden Place. Anne will understand it, he decided, and his smile became foolish as he thought of her lovely face and large, expressive eyes. And besides, he thought, it is a well-known fact that two people can never agree fully about poetry. Ours will be a very interesting discussion, then, about ... love.
Quotation: The Clod and the Pebble by William Blake
Authors' Note: Our reader, Joy, very kindly sent this wonderful poem our way, with the comment that she thought that it was the very picture of Anne. We agree! Although the latter half of the poem perfectly depicts someone else, doesn't it? Dear Joy. Did she ever think that we would place the words of the poem into his mouth? Ah yes, we love it! Thanks again, Joy!
Continued in Part 7
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