Love Suffers Long and Is Kind, Volume IV
Elizabeth fingered the strand of pearls about her neck, as she wandered among the card tables in Lady Farley's salon. But although she nodded and smiled at this or that one, her actions were mere politeness. Her depression had not lifted, indeed, it had worsened as the evening wore on. For not only had Penelope Clay been compelled to remain behind, leaving her without a female companion, but this party was proving to be a complete waste of time. There were admirers enough, but as all were above the age of fifty, their smiles and gallant bows were of no consequence. What was worse, Elizabeth's prime object, William Elliot, had chosen to remain fixed by her sister's side all evening long.
She looked across the room and found him seated apart from the rest of the party, deep in conversation with Anne. Elizabeth's eyes narrowed. He seemed quite enchanted with Anne's company tonight, though Anne was probably too stupid to notice.
Elizabeth drifted away from the card tables and drew closer to the pair, but carefully, for she did not wish to be seen. She soon came near enough to hear snatches of their conversation. Apparently, they were discussing poetry, for Mr Elliot had a small book and kept pointing to its pages as he spoke. Elizabeth shook her head in wonder as she listened. Wasn't it just like Anne to be interested in a poem about a rock and a clump of dirt?
"But the 'clod' falls apart at the least provocation, dear Cousin," Mr Elliot was now saying, with a great deal of earnestness. "Now, the 'pebble,' on the other hand -- does not the 'pebble' denote strength? It weathers life's storms, firm and resolute!" He leaned forward and smiled at Anne. "Is not love to be strong, my dear?"
"But that is not what is meant here, Mr Elliot!" Anne's gentle voice might not be easily heard by most at that distance, but it was discernible to Elizabeth. It seemed that Anne was just as seriously intent as Mr Elliot. "A rock is strong," she continued gravely, "but it is also unyielding. It is hard, and cold, and self-absorbed, giving nothing to the beloved!"
"And the 'clod' is so much better?" he retorted. "In the end, it is ground to dust by the hooves of that ridiculous cow! What good is that? Er, to the beloved, that is. What has the 'clod' given?"
"It has given itself," was Anne's answer. "Love is self-less, Mr Elliot. It gives without expecting something in return, simply for the joy of giving.
"Ah! You are too philosophical for me, my dear. For to give all, simply for the sake of giving it, is nothing to be proud of, at least not in my eyes! And as you know," he added, with his most charming smile, "I am said to be a very proud man."
Anne shook her head; clearly she was exasperated with him. "But love is not proud, Mr Elliot," she pointed out. "It is not arrogant, or jealous, or rude ..."
"Aha! But love should be jealous, don't you think? I would be jealous, very jealous, of any other man, if you were my love."
At this point, Anne began to be truly annoyed, which caused Elizabeth's brows to arch higher. "The love between a man and a woman is ... loyal, yes," she replied. "But I misspoke. It would be better to have said that love is not envious."
"Of course love is envious!" he laughed. "If I were your love, I would be extremely envious! Of the tea cup which touched your lips tonight, of the pillow upon which you will rest your head ..."
"Mr Elliot!" Anne cried, much vexed. "That is not at all an appropriate comparison! For you are not my love!"
"Yes, I am well aware of that."
He looked rather hurt, and shortly thereafter excused himself to procure a glass of punch for Anne. Elizabeth's lips twisted into a smile. As usual, her sister had bungled it. What was the matter with her? It would be so simple to attach him, to bind him to herself, for he had thrown out several ill-disguised lures. Was Anne truly so dense? Or did her preference for a uniform so completely blind her to Mr Elliot's every advantage?
However, Elizabeth's amusement was short-lived, for tonight she was forced to face an unhappy truth: Mr Elliot had a definite preference for Anne. She could no longer dismiss his actions as being anything other than those of a suitor. Elizabeth's lips compressed into a line. She had lost her power with him, and this realisation did nothing to improve her temper. Why anyone would prefer Anne to herself was inconceivable, but so it was.
Well! That is fine by me, she fumed, and tossed her head. I always did hate the man! I shall simply find ... someone else! Elizabeth surveyed the gentlemen in the room appraisingly. But aside from a nod from Sir Clifton Farley (who was older than her father, besides being married), no opportunity presented itself. Elizabeth groaned and resumed her perambulations. The remainder of the evening would be endured, somehow. But what of the remainder of her life? She glanced back at Anne, who was now sitting alone. If her sister was to be so stupid, perhaps the situation with Mr Elliot could be salvaged, after all ...
In the early hours of Friday morning, Anne rolled over in her bed -- and winced. Something had awakened her, but what? Presently she was able to open her eyes. The card party had ended very late; even now her eyes stung and her limbs felt like lead. But the sound came again, and Anne listened more carefully. Could it be the song of ... birds? After a cold, silent, truly dreary winter, had spring come at last to Bath? Anne summoned her strength and sat up. It was the singing of birds.
She found her robe at the foot of the bed, wrapped herself in it, and padded over to the window. The heavy drapery was then drawn back to let in the faint light of dawn. Anne wiped the glass with her sleeve and looked out. The sky was a pale blue, flecked with clouds. She fought with the latch and pushed against the window with all her might. It swung noisily outward and the fresh morning air, sweet and mild, rushed in. Anne rested her elbows on the sill. Besides the birds, she could hear the chirping of frogs down in the courtyard. Even in Bath, all things are made new, she thought. I would like a new beginning, too.
After a long while and with a great deal of reluctance, Anne pulled the window closed and returned to the dimness of her little room. She sat on the bed and looked about her. Here, nothing was changed; the glorious transformation to newness of life did not penetrate the walls of this house. Anne's eyes came to rest on the book on her bedside table.
Owe no man any thing, but to love one another ... Anne recited the text from memory; she had come across it yesterday during her private devotions. Although she knew its context did not refer to financial obligations, the phrase had haunted her all night long. Bath was to have brought about a new beginning for her family, a way to clear away the claims of creditors, and to remove the disgrace of debt.
"Owe no man any thing ..." Anne repeated dully. Her father owed a great deal, and apparently, the measures of economisation he had undertaken were not effective.
Elizabeth was dealing with the situation by seeking to remove herself from it, through marriage. Should I do the same? For I am powerless to do anything else ... That question had no easy answer; it had bothered Anne for so long that at last she had pushed it from her mind. Now it was back to torment her: the reproach of debt, versus duty, and honesty, and a good character. Disgrace, versus honour.
The word 'honour' brought to mind Frederick Wentworth, and his name caused Anne to sigh. She spent some time thinking about him, and the lengths he had gone to in order to do what was right. Frederick married for honour, she thought. Perhaps I should do likewise ...
The minutes ticked away as Anne sat there, considering. Eventually, shadows appeared on the wall, as the first rays of sunlight penetrated the room. Still, Anne did not move. Her heart felt like a dead thing within her breast, as hard as the pebble Mr Elliot had so rigorously defended last evening. Was this what Frederick had faced? The cold reality of duty? For the first time, Anne began to have a clear understanding of his predicament and her heart was wrung with pity.
As the sun rose higher in the sky, the birds became more riotous in their singing. Anne wrenched her mind away from Frederick and took herself back to the window. The sky was even more blue; the clouds were now pink, now golden, growing brighter as the sun gained in strength ...
At last, Anne could bear it no longer. This was to be a glorious day and she must be a part of it. Mr Elliot, the retrenchment, honour, and Frederick Wentworth -- all were cast aside as Anne hunted in her wardrobe for a suitable dress. The housemaid would soon be in to tend the fire; she could assist with the few buttons Anne could not manage herself. For she was going to do exactly as her heart pleased this morning, she was going for a tramp, a good long one. Lady Farley had mentioned a park last night, a corner of a large estate which had lately been opened for public use. It had pathways which wound through a grove of ancient trees and rhododendrons, and a small lake, and beds of flowering bulbs. Belsom, Lady Farley had called it. Anne's fingers could not unfasten the buttons of her night dress fast enough.
Her tramp across Bath took some time, but it was not unpleasant to traverse the deserted streets. The weather had been warming throughout the week, so Anne could dispense with her heavy cloak. She followed the directions Burton had obligingly given her, and at last she found herself on a lane lined by trees. Presently she reached a thick hedge and followed it until she gained a narrow iron gate, which had a nameplate to indicate the entrance to Belsom Park. Anne pushed it open and followed the gravel path into the shrubbery.
At length Anne rounded a corner and halted in surprise. For before her was the small lake, bordered with several willow trees; their branches were bent nearly to the water and were arrayed in the pale new green of spring. And dotted here and there in the surrounding lawn were beds of yellow daffodils; the morning sun made their petals glow. The cry of ducks and geese, the sparkling of the sun on the water, the very stillness of the place, caused Anne's heart to swell with longing. What she wouldn't give to have the pleasure of seeing the lawns and groves of Kellynch again. What she wouldn't give to be ... home.
As Lady Elliot, you would be mistress of Kellynch. The thought came wafting softly through the sunlight and caught at Anne's heart. She winced and cast it aside and continued walking in the direction of the lake.
Presently she found a bench and gratefully lowered herself onto it, not caring if it was wet with dew. She was wearing her oldest dress; what would it matter? After some time, she began to feel herself unbend. Was it due to the warmth of the sun on her skin and gown? Or the delicious solitude?
A stray mallard came near with such a hopeful look that Anne had to laugh. She had brought nothing to give him, but he must have been hungry, for he did not quickly desert her. He eyed her for so long that at last she began to feel badly. To be rid of him, she tossed a stone into the water. With a great flapping, the duck left to investigate.
Are men always so ... dense, Anne wondered. Misunderstanding even the simplest things? For last night, William Elliot had been exactly the same. He had brought a poem to share with her -- about a stone, like the one she had thrown to the duck -- and he had completely misconstrued everything about it. Or, he was baiting her with it. Anne bit her lip as she thought. Which it was, she could not tell. Mr Elliot had had a sparkle in his eye which made her suspicious. But that was nothing new; everything about him made her suspicious. Mr Elliot was just what a gentleman should be: rational, discreet, polished ... and she distrusted him entirely, for his tongue never slipped. Or, it had not until just lately, when he had taken up poetry. Anne looked down at her gloved hands as a blush rose to her cheeks. His behaviour had become so odd, so pointedly attentive. She could not think of him as a suitor, but his words last night had shown that it was so.
Anne plaited the fabric of her gown and thought some more. Someone else had said something to her about suitors; what was it?
'Hasn't your father approved of any of your suitors?'
Anne smiled at the memory. It was James Benwick, of course. That was just the sort of thing he would say. She looked back at the sparkling lake with a sigh. And he is right, too, she admitted reluctantly. Although, William Elliot would be the one man who would certainly earn Father's approval. Unfortunately.
She thought some more about her cousin, and threw many stones into the water as she did. The ducks kept their distance. At length she knew it was time to depart, for it would not do to be late to breakfast.
Anne slipped into the dining room as quietly as she could; the tramp home had taken longer than she thought. Unfortunately, she had not thought to bring along a few coins to hire a carriage for the trip, though she doubted she had the courage to hail one on her own. As it was, her feet and legs ached. She gratefully made her way around the table to her chair.
After her walk in the sunshine, the room could not seem anything but dark. Once her eyes adjusted to the dimness, Anne could see that her father, Elizabeth, and Mrs Clay were already at table, occupied with their breakfast. Mrs Clay looked up inquiringly and murmured a greeting.
"Good morning," Anne replied, with a fairly cheerful smile. "It is a glorious day. I have been for a walk. Er, no one else was out this morning, Elizabeth. Only the birds were there to see me."
As Elizabeth rarely spoke at the breakfast table, Anne did not expect an answer. But after she slid into her chair and took up her napkin, she found a surprise beside her plate. It was a letter, an uncommonly heavy one. Anne took it up and stared at it. At last, she broke the seal. The sound of the page unfolding attracted her father's attention.
"What have you there, Anne?" he asked pleasantly.
"A letter, I ... think," Anne replied with a frown, as she spread it out. To her surprise, the floral paper held another letter within its folds. It was sealed, and addressed to herself. This Anne carefully removed, under cover of the flowered page. She brought it to her lap and lay her napkin over it.
Sir Walter raised his eyebrows at the riotous stationery. "My, my!" he exclaimed. "And is this Mary's taste in writing paper which I spy?" He held out his hand expectantly.
"Er, no, Father." Anne answered slowly, for she was occupied with reading it. "It is from Miss ... Jemima ... Calvine."
"Cal-vine, did you say? Is this someone we know? Or is this another acquaintance from the Westgate Buildings?" He looked quizzingly at Mrs Clay, in order to share the joke.
"She is someone I met at the Pump Room, perhaps. Or, I suppose she could be one of Mary's friends ..." Anne searched her memory for someone named 'Jemima,' but to no avail. And 'Calvine' was an unusual enough name; surely she should recall its owner. In the meantime, Miss Calvine's flowery missive was re-folded and passed to Sir Walter for examination.
As he opened it, Anne suddenly remembered the letter on her lap. She hesitated, stole a glance at her father, and then very carefully lowered her eyes and pulled back the napkin. The direction on the face of it was beautifully legible. There was something terribly familiar about that handwriting, though Anne could not say what.
Meanwhile, Sir Walter studied Miss Calvine's letter with an expression of growing disgust. "I cannot read this well at all, Anne, but I must say, this young woman does not seem at all the proper sort! She is in London for the Season, she says, to 'entrap' a man! And then, what does she do but list the several she has in mind! How very vulgar!
Elizabeth raised her head and gave her father a measured look. She then lowered her eyes and took a sip of tea.
Now, Mrs Clay came to stand behind him, to assist in reading the letter. She choked back a laugh. "Dear me, Sir Walter," she gurgled, as she pointed to the page. "I do believe this young woman thinks the correct style of hat will carry the day! Did you ever hear of anything so silly, sir?"
"It is all in the cut of the evening gown," Elizabeth muttered, to no one in particular. "And in one's parentage. And, most especially, in the size of one's marriage settlement." This last was said with a look in Sir Walter's direction.
No one noticed Anne, as she stared at the letter hidden on her lap. Her face went white, then red, and she pressed her fingers to her lips to cover her astonishment. Her heart felt as if it were about to burst. Of course, she recognized this writing! She had seen it on scraps of paper, and on a written schedule for the Poetry Group! And was it not on the flyleaf of the book he had loaned to her? For 'Jemima' was none other than the feminine version of ... James! This letter -- and the other one -- had been written by none other than Captain Benwick!
After a late breakfast in his bedchamber (which he hardly touched), Captain Benwick stood before the mirror in his dressing room. He regarded his reflection thoughtfully. He was dressed in a white shirt, white breeches and white stockings. 'Pearl gray,' the tailor had called the colour, but to James it was all the same: a blank palette for disaster. However, when paired with the pearl gray waistcoat, which had very narrow stripes of maroon and dark green, he had to admit, it did look rather well. Very slowly, he fastened the buttons of the new waistcoat, feeling the familiar pull as the garment bound his back and shoulders. Today it would be good to be held erect like this, for he felt anything but confident as he prepared for his appointment with Anne. After he had finished with the buttons, Jonathan Yee motioned him into a chair.
"You're becoming more skilled with neckcloths, you know," Benwick remarked, as he lifted his chin so that the man could wind the length of dark fabric around his neck.
"Thank you, sir. If you please, do not move just now," came the reply. "We are at a very ... delicate ... juncture." Within moments, the man achieved a respectable knot and settled the silk into its proper creases. He then turned and brought out the frock coat.
Benwick rose, eased himself into it, and then stood gazing at his image in the mirror. His youngest brother had needled him about spending such a sum for this suit of clothes, but the awful truth was, he looked rather splendid. The coat was snug, yet the charcoal gray wool draped beautifully across his shoulders. James turned to take in his profile.
Worry must agree with me, he thought acidly, for I daresay I have lost a few pounds. For a moment, he considered donning his oldest clothes for his appointment with Anne, but as these were in disgraceful shape, being still in the bottom of his sea chest, he quickly abandoned the idea. If he would not wear the uniform, he was stuck wearing this attire.
"Your timepiece, Captain," said Yee, as he handed the item to Benwick, along with a supply of handkerchiefs. "And this was left in the pocket of your undress uniform, sir."
"Great Jeshoshaphat!" Benwick exclaimed. He took his great aunt's ring from the man's hand and grimaced at his own forgetfulness. "Thank you Yee," he muttered. "I'll put it in the vault straightway." He held the pearl and diamond ring in his palm for a moment; it was as beautiful as ever. James looked at it with a stab of longing; how he wished he could give it to Anne! For a moment, he came near to throwing caution to the winds, but he caught himself in time. We cannot live on one hundred pounds per year, he reminded himself firmly. Thus chastened, he sighed and stuffed the ring into his pocket.
Meanwhile, Yee was making the finishing touches to his hair. He was most intent on his work, shaping the hair with his fingers. Benwick watched him in the mirror with narrowed eyes.
"Quit that, Jonathan," he grumbled at last. "You're only making it worse!"
"I beg your pardon, Captain." Jonathan Yee kept his eyes averted, but continued to arrange Benwick's hair at the back, above the high standing collar. "It has been my observation, sir, that the ladies are fond of curling hair."
"For themselves, Yee, or for little boys," Benwick retorted. "And who said anything about a lady?"
"Did I mention a lady, sir?" Yee said innocently, in a fair imitation of his father. He took up a different brush and began to work on the shoulders of the frock coat. Presently a soft knock sounded at the door and Yee went to inquire. He came back immediately.
"Excuse me, Captain. Dr Minthorne has come to call."
"Minthorne!" Captain Benwick's face brightened; this was a welcome interruption. He had wondered how he was going to pass the time until tea. "I'll be down directly, Yee. Put him in the library. And find out if he's hungry," Benwick added. "I'll wager he likes cake."
"Very good, sir," Yee answered, with the shadow of a smile.
Sir Walter soon had enough of 'Miss Calvine' and her letter; it required much skill on Anne's part to rescue it from being tossed into the fire. However, she accomplished this and also managed to choke down the remainder of her breakfast. After what seemed like an eternity in the dining room, she was at last able to escape to the privacy of her bedchamber.
It was most curious that Captain Benwick should write to her like this. Anne was puzzled and perplexed, but she was also very, very pleased. She now brought the letter over to the window for closer examination. The purple ink was even brighter in the sunlight; 'Miss Calvine's' spidery writing travelled all over the page, with many curlicues and underscores. The 'i's were foolishly dotted with hearts or daisies, and some of the words were oddly spelled. Anne could not help but smile as she pictured her friend engaged in the task of composing it; somehow he had perfectly captured the ramblings of a very silly young woman.
My dear Miss A,
I know you will be surprized to hear from me just now, and I am surprized, too, for I simply have No Time to write to anyone. I am haveing an amazingly wonder full Season here in London; it is a great pity that I must waste time to sleep! You must know that I am occupyed from morning 'til night with a positive flurry of engagements.
This is the place to get husbands, my dear Miss A! It is infinitely better than Bath, and how I wish you were here with me now, to view the selection at hand!
My uncle says the men are hoovering 'round me like moths to a flame, altho he says it is due to Mama's inheritance. Isn't that horridd of him? But I know he is only funning, for Mr Quirimit told me yesterday that I am the most Delight full Createur he has ever set eyes on! Isn't that sweet? And dear Mr Brackenbottom says the same.
Anne's eyes widened, for there was more in this vein, much more. 'Miss Calvine' went on to speak of 'man-entrapping' apparel, and described a particularly awful hat and gown in such vivid detail that Anne nearly choked with laughter. How in the world had Captain Benwick come up with such outrageous examples?
Because he is an outrageous person, of course, Anne thought, with a smile. For it was very true; beneath his quiet exterior lay an entirely different man. 'Shy, but not at all reserved,' she had said of him once, and it was exactly so. Anne shook her head over the page and smiled some more.
Presently she drew the second letter from her pocket. She was a little reluctant to open this one, though she could not say why. As she broke the seal, her heart began to race. Three pages it was, all covered over with his flowing, precise script. Quickly, she checked the signature at the end, and it was his: 'J. Benwick.' Anne's face grew warm, and her fingers trembled as she held the pages; her heart was so full it could burst. When had she ever had such a letter? She knew men were reputed to be the worst of correspondents, but evidently this man was not among their number.
Miss Anne, I thought I would write to appraise you of my visit to London thus far, he began, and so launched directly into the events of that week. With great eagerness, Anne went on to devour the first two pages. It was a most delightful letter; not at all stuffy or dull. It was as if he was sitting in the room with her, as he told amusing stories of his younger brothers in Bloomsbury. The curious old solicitor who was handling his great aunt's estate was likewise introduced, and the entire situation with the 'lost' will was explained. Anne also met Milton, Captain Benwick's eldest brother, and chuckled over his 'preemptory officiousness' and the ill-concealed manipulations of his wife. Anne sighed contentedly. She was all admiration at his skill, for reading this letter was like reading a book; the words disappeared from the page as the stories unfolded before her.
The third page of the letter had a different tone, slightly less light-hearted, but no less interesting to Anne. She got up from the desk and moved to sit on the bed, still reading. When he told of a chance meeting with the man who had been his first officer on the Grappler, Anne blinked in surprise. She had never thought of him as such, as one in command of his own ship. To her mind, he had always been Frederick's first officer. She lowered the page.
How I have misjudged him! she thought, biting her lip. And what was more, until now she had not realised how much she missed his company. He did not say when he would be returning to Bath, but that could be borne, for she had this letter to lift her spirits. She hung over it eagerly, reading until she reached his invitation.
"At two o'clock, on Friday." She repeated his words aloud. "Today?" This letter had reached her just in time! "And ... on New Bond Street?" Anne nearly laughed, for he was asking her to meet him at the same tea room she had visited with Lady Russell and Mr Elliot! Although, she thought, with a smile, taking tea with Captain Benwick will surely be more comfortable! She looked back at the page and finished reading his sentence.
... where I may explain to you my news, without fear of interruption.
Anne gulped and read the words again: without fear of interruption. What was he planning to explain? Anne tried, but she could not imagine what might be so important.
He loves you.
The thought sounded so clearly in Anne's mind, it was as if someone had spoken the words aloud. She closed her eyes and pressed the letter to her breast. "He loves me," she repeated.
"No, no," she answered aloud. "He cannot love me. He loves Fanny Harville ..."
"Or, he did love Fanny Harville, until she died," she amended. "And I love Frederick Wentworth. Or ... I did ... love ..." Anne pressed a hand to her cheek.
"I did love him, very much, more than anyone in the world, but ..."
"Oh, no." Anne could not help but smile. "He is Frederick's particular friend. Whatever would Frederick say to such a thing? And besides, it is too ridiculous. Of course, James Benwick does not care for me in that way."
As the letter was still in her hands, Anne finished reading it. Crowded at the very bottom of the last page, below his signature, was a postscript in the purple ink. It had obviously been added later; a hastily written apology to explain the need for the covering letter. But at the end of it, scrawled in the side margin was ...
Anne frowned and bent to examine the page more closely. At length she brought the letter to the window. It was most important that she decipher what he had written there, for she thought she saw ... in his signature ...
"That must be his name: 'J-a-m' ... and 'e-s.' And that certainly is an 'l' ... and an 'o,' " she murmured. "And that one is a 'n' ... or, it could be a 'v' ... but that would mean this says ..." Anne looked at the signature with new eyes.
"Love!" Anne caught her breath. She counted off the letters again, one by one, but now that she had seen the word, the message it contained could not be denied. For what James Benwick had dashed off in haste clearly revealed the whole of his heart! Was this the news he planned to tell her today?
How long Anne sat on the bed, staring at that signature, she could not say. All at once, she came to herself with a start. He was to meet her for tea, today, alone. Dare I go? she asked herself fearfully. On the other hand, dare I not?
"At ... two o'clock!" Anne gasped, for there was barely time to have a proper dress readied! With trembling fingers, she pulled the bell to summon Elise, and then moved to open the wardrobe. Which gown should she wear? Not one of them was pretty enough, not for an occasion such as this. But did that really matter, if he loved her? For he had seen her at her very worst, yet he loved her still!
"Perhaps, this old green one," she murmured, "which I wore when he taught me to waltz, and ..." Her face reddened and she bit back a smile, as she remembered how he had held her in his arms, before Charles had burst into the room. He had begun to whisper something just then ... Anne blushed more hotly and continued looking through her dresses. None of them pleased her. When she came to the last one in the wardrobe, she hesitated.
"What about this one ..." Anne smiled in spite of herself, as she pulled out her faded pink silk; it was the dress she had worn to the wedding at Uppercross. He had held her in his arms that day, too. And many were the times when, in her heart of hearts, she longed to be held that way again.
Anne stepped back from the wardrobe and hung the pink gown on the door. The colour exactly matched the ribbon on her ivory straw bonnet, which was quite perfect for a spring day like this. Though it was a bit bold to do so, she would wear this dress. If he could be outrageous, so could she!
James Benwick, in love with me! The thought left her dizzy. It was so unexpected, so incredible! And how long ... she wondered, a little breathlessly, how long have I ... cared for ... him?
As Anne gave the pink gown to Elise to press, trembling at her own recklessness, her cousin was striding along Milsom Street, on his way to Camden Place. Determination was writ large on his face.
I must speak to Anne, he repeated to himself. I must speak my heart, and I must speak it now!
For the more he thought about it, the more the meaning of Blake's poem became clear. Anne had explained it, and now he saw the faultiness of his interpretation. The 'clod' gave ... and the 'pebble' took. William Elliot didn't want to be the hard-hearted stone; he wanted to give. And he that would certainly do, for Anne deserved everything of the best! She wore no jewelry last evening but he would fix that! The exquisites of Bath and London would soon sit up and take notice of the beautiful Anne Elliot! That is to say, the beautiful Mrs William Elliot, he amended, with a smile.
Still, he had a few qualms. 'Never ask a question to which you do not know the answer' rang loudly in his mind; a result of the years spent studying law, no doubt. Anne's opinion of him was a bit of a mystery, but he attributed this to shyness and to the excellence of her kind nature. Until he was free of his obligatory year of mourning, she would not tempt him by encouraging his advances.
No, he decided, There is no one so ladylike, so noble as my darling Anne. And so, with such comfortable thoughts to bear him company, William Elliot continued on his way to the home of his fair cousin.
Chapter 13, Part One
All in all, it was a thoroughly beautiful day. In the back garden of Chauntecleer, robins hopped about on the lawn and the stately trees displayed the tiny new leaves of spring. The sun shone cheerily in through the tall windows of the library, making patterns on the richly-coloured carpet. James Benwick groaned at the irony of such loveliness on a day which held so much regret.
It had been a pleasant morning, as well as a beautiful one. Richard Minthorne had come to look in on Sir Robin and had stayed on to chat; a more genial neighbour James would be hard pressed to find. The doctor had talked of any number of things during the course of the hour; he had reveled in the quality of Mrs Yee's coffee, and had consumed a vast quantity of cake.
"Well," said he, as at last he pushed back his plate, "I must be off. I've an afternoon call or two to make and then, I hope, a nice, quiet evening at home. You know, Benwick," he added, offhand, "now that you're here to stay, you might try using some of the other rooms in the house. I don't believe I've seen you outside the library above twice."
"I don't mind the solitude of study and am, er, rather accustomed to cramped quarters," James replied with a smile. The latter was another of his 'sailor's' answers; it satisfied nicely for many occasions. "And besides," he added, "the house is too quiet."
"Then you must do something to liven it up," Minthorne suggested. He raised an eyebrow and asked, very casually. "Ever think of taking a wife?"
"A ... what?" James nearly choked. Of all the comments to make, Minthorne would stumble upon that one! "Liven up your own house, Minthorne," he sputtered. "For you're in want of a wife, as well! Weren't you just saying how quiet it is?"
"Quiet? No, no, my house is full of cousins these days, and is anything but quiet!" Minthorne grinned and reached out to spear the last bite of cake. "Now that I think on it," he said around the mouthful, "John and Henry are becoming a confounded nuisance; making all sorts of demands on Winnie. And arguing with one another over the most trivial things imaginable! I ought to send them packing! But that's not my point. A wife would make things very nice for you, Benwick ..."
"As she would for you."
"Ah." Minthorne laid down the fork and looked into the fire. "My profession does not lend itself to marriage and family life, unfortunately," he said quietly.
"Nor does mine."
"Mmmm. I quite see your point, yes. But you are young yet, Benwick; too young to live alone. I, on the other hand ..." Minthorne folded the napkin and placed it beside his now-empty plate; "I am a good deal older; too old to marry again." His lips twisted into a smile. "Now, don't look at me like that! Admit it, Benwick! I'm too old for all that hearts and flowers nonsense."
James' romantical nature was stung. "But isn't that for the woman to decide?" he blurted. "If she thinks you are, she'll tell you soon enough ..." James clamped his mouth shut; such words also applied to his own situation!
Dr Minthorne appeared much struck by this notion. "Yesss, I believe you're right," he murmured, with a faraway look in his eye. "She would tell me, too, and I can just see her doing it. With that particularly mischievous smile of hers ..."
"She?" James lowered his coffee cup and stared. He was about to say more when Dr Minthorne shook off his pensive mood.
"Good lord, look at the time! It's nearly one and here I sit! Bye the bye," he added, as he stood and straightened his frock coat, "is there anywhere I may drop you, Benwick? I'm headed in the direction of the Westgate Buildings."
James declined the offer and walked with his neighbour to the main door. What a laugh, he thought, as he retraced his steps through the silent house. Me, giving Minthorne advice! 'Isn't that for the woman to decide?' was what he had said. 'If she thinks you are -- too poor -- she'll tell you soon enough ...'
No, she wouldn't, James reminded himself. His mother had willingly followed his father into a poor country parish, but it had been hard for her. He had seen her secret tears -- and he would not subject a gently-bred woman like Anne to such a life.
James paced about the library, stopping every minute to check the clock. At last, he moved to sit behind the desk. There must be something I may do for twenty minutes, he told himself. Book work was out of the question, for he was in no state for mental concentration. But setting the lower desk drawer to rights might be just the thing. Depression (or better still, anger) was always the proper frame of mind for a task of reorganisation. It made one ruthless in dealing with unwanted rubbish.
Now that the desk was to be his own, James set himself to the task. Soon he was piling up odds and ends his great uncle had stashed there; things long forgotten, no doubt: various stray coins, a lone cufflink, half-used pencils, and the like. James frowned as he brought out an ornately painted Chinese porcelain lid; it looked to be very old. The Wrenwyths had been hopeless collectors of the stuff; there were at least five glassed-in cabinets full of it. Where it belonged was anyone's guess, though Old Mr Yee would probably have the best idea. James hunted up his discarded napkin, wrapped the lid in it, and slid it into one of his larger pockets. He would give it to the man on his way out.
Next, he tackled one of the top drawers. This one contained a variety of items, many of them placed there by himself over the past four weeks. James continued with his sorting chore until a small knot of satin caught his attention. Gently, he removed it from the drawer; he held it in his palm for a long while. It was a flower from Anne's hair; he had found several on the ground near that bench at Uppercross. He had collected them in order to return them to her, but during the course of the afternoon the little roses were forgotten, and had remained tucked away in the pocket of his great coat.
James was so absorbed with memories that the strike of the clock took him by surprise. It was a quarter past the hour; nearly time to leave. He carefully replaced the satin rose and with great soberness got to his feet. He was coming to realize that this was to be one of the hardest things he had ever done. Anne was uncommonly perceptive; he must be on his guard not to betray the least disappointment or change. Cheerful, yet distant. Friendly, but without allowing himself to love her. James sighed. He knew he had never been so with Anne, not even once.
There was one small shred of hope to snatch at: perchance she had not received his invitation in time. He would simply wait at the empty table and then, make his way home. This thought, which should have brought comfort, was oddly depressing. He'd missed Anne terribly and desperately wanted to see her.
But time was passing and he could not be late. With shoulders squared, he made his way to the library door. Like preparing for a boarding party, this is, he thought grimly. At length, his hand reached down and fastened the lock. He turned and retraced his steps.
If this was to be his most difficult engagement, it would be best to prepare in the same way. He gripped the edge of the desk with one hand and carefully lowered himself to one knee. First things first, he told himself, and silently he bowed his head.
During this time, Anne was seated at her dressing table, watching her maid in the mirror. There could be no doubt about it: Elise was behaving in the oddest way. When she had returned the pink gown, Elise had listened to Anne's request to freshen her hair with her customary glum expression. But as Anne shyly began to explain about her two o'clock appointment, the woman's expression underwent a change. Anne blushed and smiled as she brought out three rather crushed satin rosebuds. Since she was going to wear the pink dress, Anne thought it was appropriate that they again adorn her hair.
Elise tenderly took charge of the roses, with an arrested look on her face. "Je comprends tres bien, Mademoiselle," she murmured. "Tenez cela pour fait." Elise glanced over her shoulder at the clock, and began to take immediate action. The hair irons were brought out, though Anne had not asked for them, and any number of brushes, pins, and combs. She then unbound Anne's hair and began to brush it with great determination.
After several lengthy delays, in which he wrestled with his thoughts, William Elliot at last found himself turning the corner onto Camden Place. His object was to see Anne, and he was not at all comfortable about it. He had rehearsed his heartfelt speech at least a dozen times, and with as many variations, but to no avail. He was completely dissatisfied with all of it. At last, he abandoned himself to the extemporaneous; whatever would be said at the moment would have to do. If his darling Anne was as fond of 'bursts of feeling' as her godmother had said she was, she would certainly find him ready to oblige today!
But nothing prepared William for the sight which met his eyes as he entered the house. Anne was descending the main stair, all in pink, with a bonnet in her hand. He was struck speechless at the lovely expression on her face and at the beauty of her smile.
"Hello, Mr Elliot!" she called, in a decidedly cheerful voice. "I am so sorry; Father and Elizabeth are out. But I expect they will return shortly," she told him. "And Mrs Clay is ..." She looked to Burton questioningly.
"At the moment, Mrs Clay is indisposed, Miss," the man replied gravely.
"I see. If you would like to wait for Father, Mr Elliot, you are welcome to do so ..." Anne led the way to the door of the drawing room and signed for Burton to open it. "I hope you will not mind if I am unable to remain with you for more than a short time," she said pleasantly. "Won't you please sit down?"
William Elliot's heart was so full he could barely speak. Anne was so happy to see him, and so beautiful in that pink gown! Is this for me? he wondered. He hesitated over which seat to choose. His heart would have him to sit beside her, but he knew it would be wisest to choose a chair facing hers, so that he could look into her eyes.
"I am meeting a friend for tea in a few minutes," she told him, smilingly. "Isn't this the most perfectly wonderful day?"
"The weather is exceptionally fine," he agreed.
"Oh, yes! That, too!"
William could think of nothing to say, as precious seconds ticked by. He gave himself a mental kick, but no topic of conversation suggested itself, save one. But how could he introduce it?
Anne helped him. "I am very much looking forward to seeing my friend," she confided. "Isn't it wonderful to have friends? That is the one thing I have desired most since we came to Bath."
"I hope I may count myself among them, dear Cousin," he said, with great sincerity. "And I quite agree. Friends make life worth living. For with a friend, one may be free to speak of all sorts of things one usually wouldn't."
"I am sure you appreciate Colonel Wallis' company," Anne offered. "He seems a very pleasant sort of person."
William blinked. He had not come to speak about that dolt, Wallis! He noticed Anne glance at the clock; his time was running out! It was now or never! In that one moment, William Elliot made the fatal decision to abandon all caution.
"I've been thinking, lately," he began, with a great deal of earnestness, "about propriety. Not that I have anything to say against propriety, but you must admit, there are times when it does hinder one. My dear cousin, I put to you this question: are there instances, rare instances, when one may properly set 'propriety' aside in order to make one's sincerest opinions known? So often we say too little, too late!"
He was about to say more, but was stopped by the arrested expression in Anne's dark eyes. "I suppose you may be right, Mr Elliot. We do too often conceal our true feelings ... to our own detriment," was what she said, but her eyes said much more.
William continued eagerly. "Have you ever done something, or said something, which is against propriety, but which allows your heart to speak in open and loving truthfulness?"
"In ... loving ... truthfulness?" Anne repeated in a whisper, as a delicate blush crept to her cheeks. "It is curious that you should say so just now, but yes, I suppose there is a time to allow my heart to speak such things ..." Her eyes were sparkling; her face shone with fellow-feeling.
William was struck dumb; he had never seen Anne quite like this, so ready to receive his addresses. It was more than he had hoped for, even in his wildest imaginings. Without knowing quite what he was doing, he fell to his knees before her chair. "Then by all means," he gasped, "we should certainly do so, Anne! For the heart must be set free ... to ... love!"
"Mr Elliot," Anne said feelingly, "I must thank you for your very timely advice. Indeed, I have been struggling with this very thing! You may think it strange, but I feel as though Providence has sent you to direct me at this most crucial hour!"
"Providence?" William repeated stupidly. He could not tear his eyes from hers; she was bending even closer to him now. Overcome with emotion, he closed his eyes and raised his face to receive her kiss.
"You are the best of cousins, Mr Elliot! I shall certainly follow your advice! I shall tell him my heart, straightway!" And with that, Anne very kindly bussed poor William Elliot on the cheek.
He opened his eyes in time to see Anne's departing form. She opened the door and then was gone. Gone!
He sat back on his heels, dumbfounded and blinking, unable to comprehend what had just happened. Then he heard voices in the entry hall: Elizabeth and Sir Walter had returned! Stricken, William Elliot lowered his head. They must not see him like this!
A moment later, Elizabeth entered the drawing room -- and was shocked to see her cousin crawling under a chair, searching for a missing stickpin.
Chapter 13, Part 2
Anne left the drawing room without a backward glance. She collected her bonnet from the table in the entry hall and put it on, though it took several attempts to achieve a respectable bow due to the trembling of her fingers. If she had taken the time to look intently into the mirror, she would have seen how charmingly the bonnet framed her face, and how its rose pink ribbons complimented the delicate blush of her cheeks. But Anne had no thought for her appearance or for anything else. Her entire attention was set on reaching her destination in time.
Indeed, she practically skipped along the sidewalk as she made her way into the heart of Bath. She would be early to the tea room, despite the delay caused by her cousin, and that was a reason for rejoicing. But as she drew nearer to George Street, Anne's steps began to slow. What in the world are you doing? her thoughts accused. For she was on her way to meet a man, alone, for what was nothing less than a lovers' tryst! How could she be so bold?
And whatever shall we say to one another? The more Anne considered this, the more worried she became. Such thoughts nearly caused her to turn back several times, nevertheless she pressed on toward the Cytherean Garden tea room.
The establishment was nearly deserted; a quick glance was enough to satisfy her that she had indeed arrived before he. Anne approached the proprietess with as much confidence as she could muster under the circumstances. To her relief, she discovered that Captain Benwick had made the arrangements ahead of time. The woman led to her to a private table in the corner near the window; it was screened from the rest of the room by several large potted palms. Anne chose one of the two chairs and sat down. Carefully, she removed her gloves and surveyed the room. This certainly did not look like the setting for a clandestine assignation! The table was covered with a crisp linen cloth, a vase of spring flowers was placed at its centre. Nearby, the sun streamed into the room through starched lace curtains. Anne soon left her seat to look out to the street. As it yet lacked the hour, there was no sign of him.
Anne's shoulders sagged in relief. Once she became accustomed to the idea that James Benwick was in love with her, she assumed that the rest would be easy. She now saw that she was mistaken. Anne returned to her seat, folded her hands in her lap, and attempted to quiet her thoughts. He had issued the invitation; she should let him do the speaking. But how could he begin to say such a thing to her?
If I was in his place, what would I do? It seemed an impossible topic to broach. However, this much was certain: she would not behave as she had in Uppercross, when she had been thrown into Frederick's company after so many years. She would not be silent and withdrawn. She would not hide her heart behind the wall of propriety -- or behind the wall of silent pride.
Of course, I have no reason to hide from James Benwick, but ... Anne's fingers traced over the beadwork on her reticule as she thought. They had become such friends in such a short amount of time. How many of the deepest hurts and disappointments of our hearts have we shared with one another? she wondered. It will not be so very hard to speak of this ... will it?
All at once, Anne realized she had not checked the window for some minutes. She did so again, and turned away. But a moment later, she was back. There, across the way, that short, sturdy gentleman ...
Anne's eyes narrowed as she studied the man; he seemed uncannily familiar. He was crossing the street just now, headed in her direction. She drew in her breath as she realized his identity. Conflicting feelings now assaulted her: swelling, trembling pleasure and paralyzing fright. Anne ducked behind the curtain, but continued to peek at him through the lace. She had never seen Captain Benwick out of uniform before; he looked very well. He wore an attractive dark gray coat and hat; the sun shone on his head and shoulders and lit the ends of his curling hair.
"James," she whispered, as she continued to watch him. It was curious to call him by his Christian name, even to herself. How could I ever have thought him unhandsome, she wondered. He is ... adorable.
Anne backed away from the window, shaken by the intensity of her feelings. It was absurd to be so shy of a man she knew so well, but so it was. Hiding behind that curtain, she suddenly felt exposed and vulnerable, and very, very foolish for wearing that pink gown. What if he recognized it? Fortunately, the bonnet still covered her hair, and although she knew he would not remember, Anne determined never to expose the satin rosebuds Elise had pinned there!
But if I do not show him how I feel, how will he know? Anne had no answer for this question.
Meanwhile, in the drawing room at Camden Place, William Elliot had been caught by Sir Walter and was obliged to sit listening as the man prattled on. William was all politeness, but he heard nothing Sir Walter said; his mind was occupied with Anne.
Obviously, he had greatly miscalculated the workings of the female mind, especially one as superior and elegant as Anne's. Wallis was right: he had bungled it. Anne had not understood a word he said, she couldn't have! For she never would have left the room had she been aware of his intentions! Very well did William Elliot know his world; he was keenly aware of his own worth.
It is Anne I mean to have and no other, he asserted firmly. His eyes travelled to rest upon Elizabeth, so elegantly attentive as she sat beside her ridiculous father. How could he ever have thought to take her as wife? Because martial happiness was not then within my grasp, he reminded himself. Anne would be the perfect wife in every way, in addition to securing for himself the title. She simply needs more time to become accustomed to the idea, he reasoned.
But this thought did not bring the peace he sought. William did not fully understand Anne's parting words to him. She had kissed him, to be sure, but she had said something about he which troubled him. She simply needs more time, he decided. That must be it.
For his part, James Benwick was far from being easy, either. As took his seat at the table, he was acutely aware that every one of his carefully constructed resolutions had fled away. For Anne had come; his heart rejoiced to see her. For what seemed like an eternity, James could do nothing but smile. At length he came to himself. I may be only your friend, but a true friend I shall be, he vowed, as he looked into her eyes. Ever and always, Anne, ever and always ...
Tea was served on the heels of his arrival, which took care of the conversation for the first few minutes. Then, as if suddenly aware of the intimacy of their situation, the two of them became busy with the tea things.
How can I have been so blind? Anne thought, as she offered him the plate of sandwiches. How can I have missed the look in his eyes, the way he is smiling just now ... Captain Benwick was rather bashful at the moment, but Anne knew that would not last long. He was never shy with her.
"I so much enjoyed your letters," she said, as she selected a cucumber sandwich from the plate. "And I am very eager to hear your good news."
"Er, good news?" he repeated, as he held the tongs with a sugar lump poised in midair.
"You mentioned at the Assembly and several times in the letter that you would be bringing 'good news' when you returned. Er, in the letter you wrote, not the one from Miss Calvine." Anne laid her head to one side and added, "And wherever did you come up with a surname such as that?"
"My father named me James Calvin," he confessed. "It was a small step to feminise it. I am not very clever with names."
"You are too modest, Captain Benwick. I think you are very clever indeed." Anne smiled some more and took a sip of tea. It was strange, but she found her courage growing. She had seen his 'good news' -- it was written in purple ink -- and she was determined to help him.
"So, tell me," she said pleasantly. "How did the odious Braxtons behave at the reading? And Estella? Did she prove you wrong? Was she satisfied with her portion after all?"
James was startled to hear Anne mention the names of his family so casually. Obviously, he must have rambled on quite a bit in that letter, though just at the moment he could not remember a thing he had said! Before he knew what he was doing, he had removed the will from his coat pocket and was unfolding it. He shuffled the pages for a minute or so, then laid them on the table and took up his tea cup. "I suppose I should tell you the entire story," he said somberly.
Over the rim of his cup, James stole another look at Anne -- and suffered a shock. She was continuing to smile at him, and with such a generous look in her eyes that he could hardly bear it. Fanny had gazed at him that way countless times, but never Anne! He gulped and bent his eyes to study the will. What had his letters done?
"The Wrenwyth property was left in its entirety to my father, originally ..." he began, not knowing what else to say, "... though none of his children were aware of it. His demise quite naturally caused my great aunt to change her will. The property was then divided into four equal portions, one for each of the surviving sons, though we knew nothing about it. I believe I became aware of how things stood well after Fanny and I were engaged, that is, before she passed on."
James frowned at the pages. "You have seen the house, Miss Anne. It is cluttered with the Wrenwyth's foreign collections and antiquated furnishings. As with many elderly persons, my great aunt spent very little on herself, besides the amount needed to maintain the house and staff -- which I now know was a considerable amount of money. Even so, I did not count my portion of the inheritance as being a tremendous wind-fall. We all assumed that by the time of her death, any remaining money would be gone."
"Not so very long after you came to Lyme, and Miss Louisa had her fall," he continued, "I received the news that my great aunt had taken a turn for the worse; she died soon after. At the funeral, I learned that I was named an executor to the estate and that the latest version of her will -- written several weeks before her demise -- had gone missing. This was not the bad news you might expect. The newer will was not materially different than the other, or so I was told, and I was in no particular hurry to settle the estate. In fact, I preferred to wait until the summer term when Milton would be free to do his share of the work."
"Is he such a shirker?" Anne asked, as she toyed with a spoon.
"I'm afraid so."
"Oh dear," she said, unsteadily. "That trait does run in more families than yours." Over the top of the paper, they shared a look.
"Well," he continued, fighting the impulse to return her smile, "just before I left to attend Freder .. er, the wedding, I received a packet from the solicitor, which Milton had most obligingly forwarded to me to deal with. In it were some financial statements which were most enlightening. To my great surprise, I discovered that my great aunt was quite an astute investor. She had amassed enough cash assets to give each brother somewhere in the neighbourhood of ten thousand pounds apiece."
"Ten thousand pounds?" Anne whispered. "Oh, my!"
"That was under the terms of the original will, and I mistakenly assumed that the two documents were the same in this regard. I was proven wrong at the reading. You see, Aunt Agatha had forgotten about our cousin, Sir Robin. In the newest will, which is the document I have here, she amended that situation."
"Was he offered a portion as well?" Anne asked. "How very kind."
"Not exactly. For one thing, Sir Robin wouldn't be able to handle his own business affairs, not in his feeble state. And for another, after living at Chauntecleer for so many years, he wouldn't adjust to a change of residence, either. No, my great aunt hit upon another way to ensure he was cared for."
James' expression, which had been solemn and serious, now became markedly unhappy. Anne's heart dropped. She had seen that look in his eyes once before, at Lyme. He will tell me what is wrong, she decided. He tells me everything. "Captain Benwick," she said gently. "How was the settlement different?"
"My brothers each received the ten thousand pounds, as before. But my portion ..."
"Your portion was not the same as theirs?" she offered.
"I received the same amount as they, but with an important difference. The money will not come under my control until after the demise of Sir Robin. I have also inherited Chauntecleer, but ..."
"'Chauntecleer?" Anne whispered. "You have the house?"
"After a manner of speaking, yes. But it, and the income from the ten thousand pounds, are to be used to support Sir Robin as resident there for the remainder of his life. I may reside there as well, but ..."
"You will live in Bath?" Anne interrupted. "You will stay? That is wonderful news!"
"It is?" James looked over the top of the will in astonishment. "I thought you loathed Bath!"
Anne was caught by this unexpected remark. "No, not loathe, exactly," she hastened to explain. "I have never said that ..."
James raised an eyebrow. "A 'determined disinclination' is very much different, is it?"
"Of course it is," Anne smiled. "They are not at all the same! But think of it! You have a home of your very own."
He was not convinced. "Chauntecleer is costly to maintain, Anne. It will gobble up every bit of income from Sir Robin's allocation and possibly more."
"Is that so bad?" she countered. "The Kellynch Estate is much the same. And later, you will have both the principal and the house as your very own."
"A house I cannot afford to keep," he reminded her.
"Sir Robin's money will maintain it during his lifetime. When it becomes yours, you may sell it."
"And who knows when that will be," he grumbled. "These sorts of people never die at a convenient time! They live on and on, while we wait and wait ..." He threw down the will and grimaced in disgust at himself. "Dear lord, I'm ranting, now! Forgive me! Sir Robin is a dear man; I would never wish him ill for any reason." James passed a hand across his forehead and groaned. "It's just that we will probably end up having to sell the house right at the time we will need it most! With a growing family and all ..."
Anne bit back a smile; obviously he was unaware of his delightful change of pronoun.
"And unless I resort to selling off the furnishings and artwork, I don't see how it will be possible to stay. And that is certainly no way to live!" When he saw the puzzled expression on her face, he added, "Er, the contents of the house are mine now, to do with as I wish."
"You do not own the house yet you own its contents? What a very odd circumstance," Anne said. "I wonder why your great aunt divided her property this way. Unless ..." She raised her eyes to his. "Is any of it valuable?"
"I rather doubt it!" James' lips twisted into a smile as he remembered what was in his pocket. "Look here," he said, as he brought out the folded napkin. "I found this in the desk today; must've been there for ages. The house is littered with this sort of thing. Aunt Agatha was mad about dinnerware and such; I may eat from a different set of dishes every day of the week if I choose!"
"It is very old, isn't it?" Anne examined the porcelain lid carefully. "I don't know, Captain Benwick," she said thoughtfully. "Several of my father's friends are avid collectors of Chinese antiquities like this. I wonder where we might find more information ..."
"I'll ask Yee about it sometime." He put down the porcelain lid and gave her his lopsided smile. "So, Miss Anne, such is my 'good news.' It is isn't so very good, is it? But the weather is, fortunately. Spring has come, and none to soon for me! Bye the bye, is your father planning to go to London this year?"
Anne looked at him in surprise. After all the hints in his letter, she could hardly believe he was moving their conversation to the commonplace; they had been so close to speaking of more! Now he was refolding the will; obviously he considered the subject closed. His eyes had that mournful look again, though he was trying to appear cheerful.
Anne now shared in his melancholy. Apparently, he would not be declaring his heart at all! She lowered her eyes and folded her hands, resting them on her lap of pink silk. He hadn't recognized the gown; the bonnet hid the roses, which he wouldn't remember either ... Anne bit her lip again, but this time it was to conceal not laughter, but disappointment.
Nevertheless, she knew she must maintain her part of the conversation. "My father and Elizabeth shall remain in Bath this Season, as shall I," she said quietly. Anne stole another look at him and sighed. He looked miserable as he sat there staring at his plate. Clearly, their tea together would soon be over.
What have I done wrong? was the first thought which came to her head. But as self-condemnation rose within her heart, Anne battled it down. This was James Benwick, one of the kindest of men! He had made no accusation; he had hurled no blame. He had simply told her of his disappointing inheritance. But why had he taken so much trouble to explain it all in such detail?
Because he thinks he is too poor, Anne realised. This was not true, yet she could not help but love him for having such concern for her welfare. But how could she convince him that his provision was sufficient? Anne closed her eyes and prayed for courage. At length she broke the silence.
"I am sorry that you see your news as so disappointing, Captain Benwick. It must be discouraging to be poorer than your brothers are. But perhaps you have forgotten this text: 'Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith' ?"
James looked at her with a startled expression. "No, I have not forgotten it, but ..."
Anne continued with the quotation. " 'Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.' " She looked him fully in the eyes. "Any difficult circumstance is bearable where love is, do you not agree?"
"And I find it most instructive that the text does not say, 'Easier is little.' Life is never easy, no matter what one's financial status is. But love, and obedience to God, make it better."
Now it was his turn to fold his hands in his lap and study them.
"James," said Anne at last, stammering a little at her bold use of his name; "James, did you mean what you said in your letter? About love?" To hide from his astonished gaze, she hunted for it in her reticule.
"Here," she pointed. "At the bottom of this page, in the purple ink. Do you see what you wrote? Did you mean that?" As she passed the paper, her hands were trembling.
James was silent a long while. "I did," he said quietly. "With all my heart."
"Then, do you or do you not wish to marr ..." Anne could not continue.
"Oh, Anne," he groaned. "It's not a matter of wishing, dearheart. It is a matter of being able."
"Of course you are able ..."
"Anne, my half-pay is one hundred pounds per year. We cannot live on that."
This was a little daunting, but Anne persevered. "Yes, we can." She lifted her chin. "It was enough for Fanny Harville. It will be enough for me."
"Fanny Harville was the sister of a navy captain, not the daughter of a baronet. We would have lived on a much simpler scale, Anne."
Anne flinched at the truth of this statement, nevertheless she would not give up. "I know how to economise ..."
"I'm sure you do. But let me ask you this: has your cousin made you an offer?"
Anne blinked. "My cousin!"
"Yes, Mr Elliot. Unless I very much miss my guess, he certainly will do so as soon as that black band comes off his hat. He is able to offer you much more than I."
"Mr Elliot ..." Anne looked up as an odd expression crossed her face. "Oh, James," she said, in quite an altered tone. "I think ..." She raised a hand to her cheek. "Now that you mention it, he has been behaving rather amorously! And today, why, he was on his knees, wasn't he?" Anne put her hand over her mouth to conceal a giggle. "And I told him ..."
James raised an eyebrow inquiringly.
"He was telling me, oh, what did he say? Something about not being afraid to speak of the love in my heart! And I told him I would! I told him I would speak of my heart ... to you!"
"Good lord, Anne!" James grinned in spite of himself. "What did he say to that?"
"I don't know. I left the room."
"He got down on his knees ... and you walked out of the room?!"
"Certainly," she said crisply. "I did not mean to be unkind, but now that I think on it, he had no business declaring himself. He is still in mourning."
"Yes. He had no business declaring himself," James agreed, and the sparkle immediately left his eyes. "Just as I have no business declaring myself," he said gravely. "For I haven't the means to provide for you as I ought."
As this was said in a very different tone, Anne's smile fled away. "Is that your final word on the matter, sir?" she asked quietly.
"Unfortunately, it must be," he answered gently. "I dearly wish it was otherwise."
"I see." Anne's breath came in tiny gasps now; she pulled herself up to sit even straighter in the chair. "Very well, James Benwick," she said, in as dignified a tone as she could manage. "Since you will say nothing ..."
"Anne, I am so sorry ..." he whispered.
Anne raised her chin. Her voice was trembling, as was the rest of her, so she spoke quickly, before she lost her courage. "I wonder if you would ... do me the honour, sir, of ... becoming my husband."
As the meaning of her words came home, the corners of James' mouth twisted into a crooked smile. "Anne ..." he grumbled.
"Well? What is your answer, sir?" she gasped. "I have never proposed marriage to a gentleman before! You will not be so shabby as to keep me waiting, will you?" Anne's heart teetered between fear and joy, for his eyes were twinkling and his smile had widened into a grin.
"One hundred pounds per year, Anne. Just you mind that." He looked at her a moment longer, then added, "I hope you won't regret this ..."
"Oh, my offer is far worse than yours," Anne said, with an air of reckless triumph, "for I bring nothing to the marriage; I have no means to properly support a husband at all! We shall live in my bedchamber at Camden Place until Father dies. And then, of course, we shall be homeless, as well as penniless, for his income will go to Mr Elliot along with the title.
"Oh, yes, the entire estate is entailed away; didn't you know? Then, we shall have to move in with Charles and Mary at Uppercross Cottage! Although, their spare room is rather smaller ..."
"God forbid!" James sputtered, and took her hand in both of his. "I'll surely provide for you better than that! But you do realise," he murmured, "that your father won't like this, Anne. If he didn't approve of Wentworth, I can guess what he'll think of me."
"I'll marry you anyway," Anne answered bravely. "I am of age now. I may do as I please. Er, James," she said, suddenly self-conscious, "perhaps you should not hold my hand like this. People will talk."
"That's a fine thing to say, after proposing to me in a tea room! Besides," he added, as he released her, "I have the wrong hand." He reached out and took hold of her left. With his free hand he brought something from his pocket which flashed gold in the sunlight. "I didn't intend to bring this today ... and I know I shouldn't properly give it to you yet, but as we are setting convention on its head ..."
"You brought a ring?" she whispered. "I thought you said we were poor."
"We are, er, I think. But as you have said, is that so bad? Can two be truly poor where there is ... love?"
Anne stared at the ring as he placed it upon her finger. With her free hand she wiped away a stray tear.
"Here now, Annie," he murmured. "Don't cry; I cannot bear it. Not after the bungling shambles I've made of this afternoon." He handed her a handkerchief and pulled out his timepiece. "It's not yet three," he said, consulting it. "Would you mind a little carriage ride? And after, I'll take you home and speak to your father straightway."
"A carriage ride?"
"To Chauntecleer. You've given me an idea which bears investigation." James assisted Anne to rise and then handed her the Chinese porcelain lid. "You keep hold of this," he said. "I think we need to have a talk with Yee about the value of some of those old pots. I'll wager he knows more than he lets on. For now that I think on it, you are not the only one quoting texts to me. He had one the other day, in reference to the will. 'In the house of the righteous is much treasure ...' "
Anne gazed at the lid in her hand. "James," she breathed. "You don't suppose ..."
Chapter 13, Part Three
Anne stood on the walk, fidgeting as Captain Benwick paid the driver. She bent her eyes to study the porcelain piece in her hands, but it did not hold her interest. Her gaze was drawn to the broad back of the man whom she had chosen to become her husband.
To look upon him brought a wave of tenderness -- and a bit of smiling shame. How could she have been so bold to propose as she had? Fortunately, James seemed to care nothing for the impropriety of it; he thought the whole episode was charming and romantic, and as such, he did his best to behave accordingly. When they had sat together in the carriage, he had removed her glove so that he could hold her hand 'properly.' She was shy of such intimacy, but made no move to withdraw her bare hand from his. Indeed, she decided to remove the other glove as well so that he could hold both hands. Anne's heart trembled as she thought of such things. It was a day for smiles.
As she did not wish to be caught staring when he turned around, Anne focused her attention on the house, Chauntecleer. This was a pleasant prospect, for the day was fine and the new foliage had begun to show on the trees which towered beyond it. Anne sighed deeply. This place was beautiful, and soon it would be her home.
So soon. This thought brought a tinge of pink to her cheeks. For just before they arrived, James had brought out a calendar and had shown his preference for their wedding day. Anne had swallowed her dismay at his ambitiousness. If he had his way, he would be speaking to her father this afternoon, and then to the rector -- and the first of the banns would be read this very Sunday, not two days hence! Anne took a deep breath. She knew she must dissuade him, but she had no idea how to begin. As a child she had seen her mother work to turn her father from unwise or outlandish plans, but the conversations were never very pleasant.
"You seem rather quiet," Benwick remarked, as he turned and offered her his arm.
"I am overwhelmed by it all," she replied vaguely, with a small gesture. "This lovely house, which is to be your very own ..."
"Our very own," he corrected, with a smile. They walked toward the main door without saying anything more. Anne could feel his eyes upon her, questioning her silence. Of all his qualities, it was this perceptiveness which most unnerved her.
"Having second thoughts?" he asked lightly.
"Second thoughts? A-about what?"
"My propo...! Good heavens, no!"
"Ah. You relieve my mind of a weight." His lips twisted into a crooked grin. "However, I now recall that the one who makes the offer is not allowed to cry off."
Anne could not help but smile. It was useless to hide anything from him, so she gave it up. "James," she whispered shyly, with a squeeze to his arm, "we cannot be married so soon! Dearest, it simply isn't decent!" As she gave voice to her concerns, Anne's tone became more urgent. "There are social conventions to consider, and my gown to order, and the Wedding Breakfast to plan! And the dinner! Father must hold an engagement dinner, which itself must be planned, and the guest list readied, and ...
"Were you wanting a large wedding?" he asked, steering her unexpectedly to the right of the main door. Obviously he wished to speak of this privately before they entered the house.
"Oh no. Certainly not. Just a few friends and our families. But ..."
Anne paused as he opened a wrought-iron gate. Beyond it she could see a path which would take them to the grounds behind the house. "And another thing. The trousseau," she confided. "I can hardly be married without one."
Benwick led her through the gateway, fastened the latch, and turned to look her squarely in the eyes. "Do I have this right? You wish to remain several months more in your father's house for the sake of ... new clothes?"
When put this way, it was plainly ridiculous. Anne fought to keep from smiling. "If we are to be poor, then perhaps it would be best ..."
"... to wring every last groat out of Papa before we tie the knot, eh?" he finished. "A knacky notion, dearheart, but ..."
Anne dimpled. "I didn't say that! Well, not exactly ... Oh, what a horrid person you are, James!"
He ignored this quip and took her hand in both of his. "Anne," he said gently, " if you wish to wait, you need only to say so. But perhaps you haven't considered the demands of my profession. I could be called back to sea at any time, and with Napoleon on the loose as he is ..." James lowered his voice further. "I may not be as valuable as Frederick Wentworth, but my future is as equally uncertain. And you do remember what happened to him on the eve of his wedding."
Anne swallowed; she had not thought of this. "His orders," she murmured.
"Exactly. And I would be less than honest if I did not own my opinion that a long engagement is an abominable thing. We wish to marry; we should do so without delay."
Anne took his arm again and they progressed to the rear of the house. When they reached the covered portico, she stopped. "But not in such a hasty way!" she fretted. "I understand your reasons, James; they are sound. But an engagement of sixteen days! What will people say?"
"Which is why we blame Bonaparte," he smiled. "For you are to be a sailor's wife and as such, you must learn to use our excuses."
"Blame Bonaparte ... for my wedding?" Anne repeated with a smile. "I may as well blame the Prince of Wales!"
"And all the Admirals ensconced at Whitehall, every member of Parliament ..."
Anne looked at his smiling face; love for her was shining in his eyes. "Oh, very well," she relented. "I shall marry you where and when you wish. But I consent to this scheme only because of what happened to Frederick. I ... I don't wish to risk losing you, James. And ... speaking of our friend, I brought something with me today to give to you." Anne released his arm to hunt in her reticule.
"Here," she said, and she held out a folded square of paper. "You may guess what this is. I want you to have it, James. I want you to know that it holds no power with me any more."
Captain Benwick took the paper and unfolded it. It was Frederick's letter. For a long moment, he said nothing.
"Keep it, Anne," he murmured at last. "For written here are the sentiments of a noble heart. He asks your forgiveness; he wishes you to love another." James' lopsided smile appeared, as he added, "And as I now occupy that position, how can I object? And look here," he pointed, "the cut you made with my sword. There are precious memories tucked away amid the pain of that day."
With great reluctance, Anne returned the letter to her reticule. She spent some time gazing at the trees which dotted the lawn; the grounds here were far larger than she expected. "You were right, James, in what you said then," Anne said at last. "The one I pity is Louisa, most sincerely. He married her for honour alone. How may she ever be happy?"
"Oh, they did not seem so very displeased with one another when we met at Lyme. In fact, quite the contrary! They will do very well if they build upon that foundation." James reached up and tucked a stray strand of Anne's hair into her bonnet. "Frederick is not a cold-hearted man, as well you know. And a heart of honour is a heart worth having. But another has said this better than I. Come, I'll show you ... in the library." He held out his hand. "Shall we see if the conservatory door is unlocked?" It was.
"Lovelace, yes, it is Richard Lovelace," Benwick murmured, as he made his way through the house. Anne followed with wide eyes, eagerly taking in the details of the home which was to be hers. Everything looked so different than on the cold and foggy afternoon of Sir Robin's party. Today, sunlight poured in through the tall windows, giving a cheerful aspect to the rooms. This residence was not grand or imposing, but it was altogether lovely.
Presently they entered the library, where James drew a volume from its place on a shelf. "Here we are," he said, as he made his way to a small sofa. He invited Anne to sit beside him, but then thought better of it. "This is a much nicer seat," he said, and pulled her onto his lap.
As Anne had been yearning to occupy this very place for a long time, she made no objection to the arrangement. Indeed, she snuggled closely against him, and because she had nowhere else to put her arms, she wrapped them about his stout shoulders. At length he recalled the book, and fumbled to find the place.
"The piece I have in mind is called Going to the Warres by the Cavalier poet, Lovelace. Quite some time ago I read it to Fanny, as we were again saying farewell. It is about a soldier's honour ... and a heart worth having. Perhaps it may explain to you something about our friend's anguished choice, and why it is I wish you to keep his letter.
Tell me not (sweet) I am unkinde,
That from the Nunnerie
Of thy chaste breast, and quiet minde,
To Warre and Armes I flie.
True; a new Mistresse now I chase,
The first Foe in the Field;
And with a stronger Faith imbrace
A Sword, a Horse, a Shield.
Yet this Inconstancy is such,
As you too shall adore;
I could not love thee (Deare) so much,
Lov'd I not Honour more.
Anne sighed and touched the page with her fingers. " I could not love thee, dear, so much ... 'lov'd I not Honour more,'" she repeated softly. "You are right. His was a heart worth having." She adjusted her position to look fully into James' face. "And so is yours." No other words were uttered then, though much was said in that embrace of the eyes.
"This is a very nice hat, Annie," he whispered at last, and lightly tapped its brim. "But it does get in the way of one's giving you a proper kiss ..."
Anne drew in her breath as she felt him tug playfully at its ribbons; without apology he was untying the bow! Very deliberately he removed the bonnet and set it on the seat beside him. Anne's heart was hammering now. His hand reached up to touch the satin rosebuds in her hair and his smile became more tender. As he bent to kiss her, also deliberately and without haste, Anne's thoughts were in a whirl. That she had chosen a man who was more sensual and passionate than she dreamed possible crossed her mind, along with not a little fear. But since raising an objection was both undignified and ungracious, Anne decided that the best course of action was simply to surrender to his tender caresses. And so she did, for far longer than anyone would have deemed proper.
"Colonel Reginald Wallis." Burton's announcement caused no little stir among the inmates of Camden Place.
"Hello, hullo," the Colonel called in his pleasant way, as he came fully into the drawing room. "Ladies," he bowed. "Sir Walter. No, no, Mrs Clay, please remain where you are. Alas, I am able to stay only briefly. I have come to collect my truant friend, there." He wagged a finger playfully. "I thought I would find you here, Elliot, old boy. Have you forgotten our engagement with Bingham?"
"Bingham? Good G-d!" Mr Elliot nearly bolted from his chair.
"He has been like this lately," the Colonel explained, with a wink and a smile at the baronet. "Forgetting all in the pleasure of the present moment. But you know what they say about the effects of spring on a young man's heart, eh?"
Mr Elliot opened his mouth to reply, but Elizabeth spoke first.
"Oh, Colonel Wallis," she called pleasantly. "I hope we shall see both you and Mr Elliot at our little card party this evening." She gave him her prettiest smile as she added, "You will not allow my cousin to forget, will you?"
"I delight to do your bidding, Miss Elliot." He gave Elizabeth a most elegant bow. "You may certainly count on us."
"My dear Colonel Wallis," Sir Walter beamed. "Surely you have a few moments to pass with us before your engagement commences. Come, sit beside me. I wish you will tell me your opinion of the arrangement of my neckcloth. My man calls this knot Le Spectacle. Is it not splendid?" Sir Walter patted the empty space on the sofa invitingly and inclined his head to give the colonel a better view. "Well, sir? What say you?"
With great care, Captain Benwick guided Anne down the steep steps to the cellar. As he did, he conversed over his shoulder with Yee, who held a lantern high to light the way. They spoke in whispers, though there was no need.
"Is this our secret room, Jonathan?"
"I believe so, Captain," came the answer. "I never suspected it was here until I was told to clear the area for your coming, sir.
"Hah!" This laugh came from Old Mr Yee, who led the way with a lantern of his own. "Of course you do not suspect! You look for hidden room, secret room -- not bolted door in cellar with crates stacked beside for anyone to see! Hidden in plain sight it was!"
"This is quite exciting," Anne whispered, as they wound their way through the darkened cellar toward the open door of the room. Its interior was lit by candles placed on packing cases.
When they reached the doorway, Old Mr Yee drew himself up to his full height. "I bring you here because these two," and here he pointed at the younger men, "they search for this room for many summers. Much trouble they cause, Miss Elliot, including some holes in the back garden, eh?" He bowed to her, and motioned the group inside.
Anne smiled. The old man had been treating her with marked respect, though no announcement of the engagement had been made. She could not know that he recognised the ring she wore.
"At the same time," he continued, "I carry on a search of my own. The lid you have brought, Miss Elliot, I have looked for high and low, many years. At last, I give up. And it was in the master's desk, waiting for the Captain to find. Just as this room was waiting here, hidden in plain sight." The old man allowed himself to smile at the irony of it all. "Later, I show you where that lid belong. For now, know that it makes the Captain a more wealthy man, should he decide to sell that par-tic-u-lar collection. But now, I show you the first of our bronze pieces." He gestured to a sturdy wooden crate, upon which rested a cloth-covered item about two feet tall. "If you will kindly remove the covering, Captain," Old Mr Yee said, "you will see this treasure."
It was a sturdy bronze flask, green with age and curiously shaped; it was wider at the middle than at its top or bottom. The metal work showed incredible detail; obviously this piece was very old.
"When King David establish his throne in Jerusalem," Old Mr Yee said in voice hushed with reverence, "this was already in use by my people. It is a fanglei. You would call it a ritual bronze wine jar.
"King ... David?" Anne whispered. "James, that would be nearly three thousand years ago!"
"I know," he whispered back. "Yee, you say there are more of these things in this room?"
"But of course," the old man smiled. "It is your inheritance. Would you like to see?"
"Good G-d!" Mr Elliot sputtered, as the main door was closed behind him. "I've seldom been so glad to see anyone, Wallis!"
"Trapped, were you?"
"The entire afternoon!"
Colonel Wallis grinned. "A veritable prisoner, although I did not see your fair gaoler. Is she somewhere about?"
"She was invited to an early tea with a friend of hers, unfortunately."
"A female friend?"
"Have the grace to shut up, Wallis!"
"Ah! So, perhaps not." Colonel Wallis smiled wickedly and walked on. After a few minutes of silent tramping, he looked up in time to see a hack pass by. He pulled up short and stared. "I say, Elliot!" he cried. "There's your Anne! And I'll be d-mmed if that isn't the naval fellow from the Assembly!"
"What?!" Mr Elliot gave a start; he had been engrossed in a study of the pavement. The men turned and very casually retraced their steps. William Elliot stole a look at the house; his face hardened at what he saw. Sure enough, there was that Benwick. He was assisting Anne to alight from the vehicle.
"Very cheerful, the pair of them," Wallis murmured, from his position at Mr Elliot's side. "Obviously, she did not take tea with a woman, eh?"
Mr Elliot allowed this remark to pass unchallenged, for he could not tear his eyes from Anne. She was absolutely radiant, laughing at something her companion had said, d-mn him! Before she reached the door, she turned and extended her hand. He caught it, and they entered the house together.
"Mmmm." His friend's voice sounded again. "An unhappy development, this. Perhaps an adjustment to strategy is in order, Elliot."
Mr Elliot stared at the closed door. "I should think so!" he snapped.
"I say, won't the other sister do as well for your purpose?" Wallis continued easily. "Devilish good-looking, she is. Spirited, too, in an elegant sort of way. She'll do you credit, boy."
"She will until she opens her mouth," Mr Elliot retorted. "Marital felicity, Wallis, will not elude me this time. I do not quit the field so easily."
"Appears to me this battle's lost already! Rotten luck for you, Elliot."
"Perhaps," came the answer.
"My dear, you saw how she smiled at the man ..."
"She will have to be convinced to turn back, Wallis, that is all. It is not so uncommon among the well-born, though I doubt you would know it much about it. And there are any number of ways this might be accomplished."
Colonel Wallis merely laughed.
"Anne's father owes a good deal of money, as you know," William Elliot continued, as if he had not heard. "I had hoped to carry out this manoeuver with very little outlay on my part. But one does what one must. I'll see Sir Walter this evening." His face darkened. "I intend to have Anne as my wife, Wallis," he added. "One way or another, I will."
To speak privately with Sir Walter was William Elliot's primary reason for attending the card party that night. He kept reminding himself of this, for there was certainly nothing else about the evening to enjoy. Anne was in glowing good looks; she even played several hands with her naval swain as her partner. Mr Elliot had been told she had a distaste for cards, though that could not be guessed by her demeanour tonight. The evening was not a complete loss, however. Mr Elliot entertained himself by foiling Mrs Clay's plans; he took her as his own partner for as long as he could stand. At last, the refreshments were served and the guests circulated throughout the room.
This was the moment for which Mr Elliot had been waiting. A few words in Sir Walter's ear, an appointment made for a more intimate interview tomorrow, and the job would be as good as finished. But as luck would have it, just as he approached Sir Walter, the man fell into conversation with Lady Dalrymple. Mr Elliot knew he would have to bide his time, for that lady's opinion and attention were all his peacocky cousin cared for.
"Why, Sir Walter," he heard her say pleasantly, " I did not expect to see Captain Benwick here this evening. How very kind you are. I do not believe he has many acquaintances here in Bath."
Encouraged by that lady's friendly tone, Sir Walter was betrayed into confessing, "I had very little choice but to include him, my lady. He came to see me this afternoon, privately. And you can guess what that means."
"Gracious! Was it to ask for Anne?" Lady Darymple's eyes widened in surprise.
Catching her look, Sir Walter confided mournfully, "Alas, what could I do but give my consent? Anne is so very determined to have him! And in my present situation, my poor hands are tied ..."
"My dear Sir Walter, how delightful!"
"Do you think so?" Sir Walter's face showed his astonishment. He slewed around to take another look at the man who was to become Anne's bridegroom; he sighed at what he saw. "He has lately come into some property, or so he says," Sir Walter muttered. "But that does not make up for his other deficiencies! You need only to look at him, Lady Dalrymple; it is quite hopeless. Even in uniform, he is so common, so ... scruffy!"
"He is the soul of honour!" Lady Dalrymple declared passionately.
"Er, he is?"
"My dear Cousin," Lady Dalrymple said, in a lowered voice which lost none of its intensity, "I know I may trust to your discretion when I tell you this -- after all, the man is to be your son-in-law. Were it not for Captain Benwick, my Mozelle would be singing the words to the most vulgar Italian song imaginable! The concert master said nothing when he gave her the musical score; it was left for this man to come to me with the translation! And let me tell you, he spent a most uncomfortable quarter-hour when he came to Laura Place! But by that unselfish act, he has delivered my daughter from public censure and disgrace!"
Sir Walter wrinkled his nose. "Benwick?"
Sir Walter was not convinced. "All the same, it is most disturbing. And the date he has chosen for the wedding! My lady, you have never heard of such a thing. He wants the banns to be read on Sunday, this Sunday! It is hardly decent to be married so soon, but so it is with these sailors! He said something about Napoleon escaping from that place, that island or wherever it is he was shut up, which might cause him to be ordered back to sea at any time."
"That is most proper, under the circumstances." Lady Dalrymple gave Sir Walter a look of surprising shrewdness. "I shall be leaving for London on Tuesday," she mused, "and yet I would so much like to do something for them before I go." She thought for a moment and then said, "I know! My dear Sir Walter, would you be so kind as to allow me to host the engagement dinner? As we are family, I know you will not stand upon ceremony. It must be for tomorrow night, mustn't it, if the banns are to be begun on Sunday."
"You, host the engagement dinner?" Sir Walter was flabbergasted by such generosity.
"Yes, at my home at Laura Place," she said shortly, and then launched into her plans. "It will be your family, and mine, and we shall include your heir, Mr Elliot. And Mr Turner will complete the number: four ladies and four gentleman. And unless you can think of another gentleman who may attend on such short notice, I'm afraid Elizabeth's companion will not be included. Dear me, I am forgetting the poor Captain. I need to discover whether he has any family here in Bath to invite. And Anne's godmother must be asked, as well ..."
William Elliot kept his back to the pair; he could not believe what he was hearing. Sir Walter had capitulated entirely! In fact, the fool was wondering whether he should ask that idiot Rushworth to the dinner -- Anne's engagement dinner! And Lady Dalrymple was now sending a footman to summon her secretary ...
Mr Elliot ground his teeth. Things were progressing at an alarming rate, but he knew he must not give in to panic; he must remain calm. He would never have won out in his negotiations over his late wife's fortune if he had succumbed at the first sign of opposition. He would prevail with Anne as well, though it would not be as easy as he had once thought. Until the vows are exchanged, there is hope, he remembered. If necessary, I shall turn Anne back from the engagement myself.
He looked across the room at her; she was smiling as she conversed with Benwick and Colonel Wallis. She would suffer pain, but it would pass soon enough. All would be well in the end. In fact, William Elliot smiled, Anne will probably thank me someday.
Quotation: Going to the Warres (to Lucasta), by Richard Lovelace
© 2001 Copyright held by author