Love Suffers Long and Is Kind, Volume IV
In all the activity it was simple for Amber Glenn to toss aside the harness collars he was fetching and take his ease behind one of the small tack sheds that dotted the coaching yard. He took a lump of tobacco from his pocket and stuffed it in his mouth, determined to chew and stay hidden until he was good and ready to be found.
Amber was not a happy fellow. At fifteen, he was a young man with great ambitions and plans. However, none of these plans included anything to do with his father's trade: night man in charge of the Poachers' coaching yard. None of them included anything really to do with hard physical work. He had already had his fill of working twelve hours a day as a muck-out boy, fetch-and-carry boy and whatever other kind of boy the grooms required. He had had enough of eating the middling meals, grudgingly given, in the kitchen. Though it was warm in the winter, the summers were intolerable. Not only that, but eating in the kitchen was a guaranty that he would rarely finish a meal. Because of his brawn, when soused blockheads in the bar-parlour determined to bash themselves about, it was Amber who was dragged out to settle their hash. When it came to keeping order, Amber was the one they always called. Though still a boy, he was bigger than most men twice his age and therefore came in handy keeping the peace.
Though even Amber would have to own that working the snuggery did have its compensations. Yes, there were a few pleasant things connected. Penelope for one, the owner's daughter. Penelope was beautiful and flirtatious and more often then not, gaining her attentions brought some men to blows. Amber thought of himself as her personal champion; it made the inconvenience worthwhile. Then there was the fact that when Mr Winter kept the bar, as he had last evening, he didn't mind if Amber helped himself to the better stuff in the back. His pap didn't mind when he staggered home in his cups and he had no mother to care. In spite of these benefits, Amber had grand plans for himself. Hadn't he, just recently, taken steps towards those better ends?
The boy looked about, his cheek was full and he needed to spit. Finding a pleasing and challenging target,he let fly. The wad hit the pane of glass with a gratifying thud; he had taken aim at the reflection of one of the yards flambeaus, and now, Amber took a perverse pleasure in watching the mix of tobacco juice and spittle slide down the small window in the side of the shed. As he watched, he reached into his pocket and felt around.
His last project had garnered him several coins of silver and an unbargained for bonus. It was too dark to see so Amber did not bother to draw anything from his pocket; he knew the look and feel of everything by heart. As the activity in the coaching yard increased, he thought about how to spend the money and what to do with a particular bit of his fortune. I bet Penelope'll be kinder to me after I give her these, he thought.
Suddenly, there was little pleasure in either his prodigious aim or thoughts of Penelope Winter. "There ya are, ya infernal laggard! I was wonderin' where those collars got off to." His father had found him.
Amber was snatched up by the nape of the neck and his head left swimming before he had a chance to respond. Though his father was head and shoulders shorter than himself, the boy would never think of laying a hand on his old man. Amber wanted to live to see sixteen.
"Now gather up them collars and gets them over to the coach just in from Kidderminster. Be lively 'bout it. I catch ya shirkin' again and I'll tan your sorry hide!" The man turned his back on his boy and before he had gone five paces started a tirade at another post-boy.
"Yes, Pap," the boy muttered. Amber picked himself up from his knees. Checking the cache in his pocket, he realised he had dropped some of his spoils. He went back to his knees to feel about the ground.
"Hey, Amber, I gots to have them collars!" called a groom.
In hopes of a miracle, Amber gave another swipe at the ground around him. "D-amn. I'll have to bring a lantern," he muttered as he gathered the collars and threaded his way across the yard.
As Amber Glenn went about his duties, Kerwin Wellstone, a reedy fellow of sallow complexion and nervous temperament, walked with his travelling companion through the yard. He asked of several grooms directions to his designated coach. All were too engaged with activity to reply; until he reached Macintosh.
"The coach bound for Shrewsbury is right over here, sir."
Mac, as he was abbreviated in a rush, looked over the man and his companion. He took the man's elbow and guided him to the proper coach.
The man reached out a fingered a gash in the door. "Highwaymen?" he stammered, clutching at his companion.
"Nah," said Mac, opening the door and pulling the stairs down. "A hellacious wind blew a tree limb into her. She's had a right hard go of it all the way from Plymouth. More plagues than Pharaoh from what Charlie says. But the weather's cleared up and she should be runnin' right on schedule from now on."
"Thank you. Wait!" called the man as the groom left him. "There is a man still in here."
The groom returned and looked in the coach.
"Is he alive," the man asked.
"Oh, yeah. Huh, he must be the one."
"The one?" the man asked.
"Yeah," the groom drawled, "from what Charlie said, this one got on in Plymouth and has been with her the whole of the way. Charlie's of the mind that he's the Jonah what brought on all the disasters." The groom turned again to leave.
The man peered into the coach and called again to the groom, "Is he drunken? Will we be safe?"
"I reckon it depends on who ya trust," called the groom. "He looks like a regular Sloppy Joe, but Charlie says he's a captain in the Royal Navy. Besides," he snorted, "your lady looks more than able to take car'a things." The groom jogged off towards another coach.
"Well, Jacqueline, what shall we do?" the man asked. He peered again at the passenger. The man was unshaven and dishevelled; a regular Sloppy Joe as the groom had called him. If the man was not in his cups, he was most surely exhausted; the busyness of the coaching yard did not disturb him in the least.
Jacqueline cocked her head. She too looked at the sleeping man. Looking anxiously at what was to be her seat, she made a small noise in the back of her throat, but otherwise, was silent.
"I hate to awaken a fellow so obviously in need of rest. Nevertheless, you must have your seat, as it is properly bought and paid for." He reached out and gently nudged the shoulder of the man in question. "Sir, please,"he whispered, "my bitch needs her seat."
There was little response. A gravelly moan deep in the man's throat and a slight shift of the arms; nothing more.
"Please, sir," the man said. This time, the volume was raised to match the urgency he felt. "My bitch must have her seat." The raised voice was accompanied by a corresponding stab at his shoulder.
The jab more than roused the slouching man, and brought him full upright. Pushing back the hat, which had covered his eyes, Captain Frederick Wentworth blinked. "Your what needs what?" he demanded. In the dim light it was difficult to focus on the face before him.
"My bitch requires the forward seat -- else she will be sick." He pointed. "It is your leg, sir, it is in Jacqueline's way."
How dare he refer to any woman in such a contemptuous manner, Frederick thought. The man's lack of civility and blatant disregard outraged the Captain and, in an instant, he prepared a stinging rebuke. "Sir, I should be -- more than a little ashamed to ... "
As he straightened to deliver the censure, his eyes fixed on a dog. He looked past the man and saw no woman in sight. Looking again at the dog, he saw that it wore a jewelled collar; much like a fashionable woman might wear. It now became clear that the man's "bitch" was indeed such and that there was no slight, on his part, intended.
Thankful that he had not embarrassed himself with hasty words, the flustered Captain slid across the seat. " -- deprive such a beautiful animal its rightful place." He waved his hand towards the vacated space. "Please." The dog jumped up and settled herself precisely on the warm leather where his leg had rested. As she heaved a sigh, the dog's warm brown eyes took him in. Jacqueline leant against the wall of the carriage, all the while gazing upon Wentworth.
"Thank you sir," the man said, as he settled himself in the facing seat. "I have to tell you that not many are so understanding." He leant forward in a confidence. "Not many have even a nominal respect for our animal companions." The gentleman made a quiet clucking noise as he smiled in the dog's direction. "I always pay a full fare for her," he continued, without looking from the dog, "but there are some that have no respect whatsoever. More common sorts have even suggested that she be tied to the top -- as if she was common baggage!" Carefully removing her collar, he murmured, "I know you hate undressing before strangers, but it is a long journey." She sighed her approval and shook vigourously. Wellstone tickled her ears, then settled back in his own seat. "You like the gentleman, do you not, Jacki? Oh, where are my manners? Kerwin Wellstone." The man offered a well-groomed hand.
Feeling ten times the fool, Frederick introduced himself as he shook the man's hand. He hoped that basic introductions would be as far as the acquaintance would progress. The previous passengers had been enough to put him off the human race indefinitely; he had no hopes that this fellow could change his mind.
The Captain was grateful when Wellstone busied himself and left off the conversation. As he had slept, he had become disoriented, and so asked a passing groom for the time and location. He was informed they were in Ludlow, changing horses, taking on mail and, by the groom's calculations, less than a quarter hour from departing. That left him nothing to do but sit and wait for more passengers.
Out of boredom, he examined the dog. Generally, the Captain was fond of dogs, but for some reason, just the look of this cur rubbed him wrong. She was a large retriever; well-formed head and frame, and jet black. The brute had a look of intelligence, but still, there was something about her that set the Captain's teeth on edge.
Looking at his human travelling companion, the Captain asked, "Might you like to sit here, next to her? I would gladly take the back seat."
The light of the flambeaus in the carriage yard flickered across the face of the man. He smiled. "Oh, thank you, no, Jacqueline is just as peculiar about where I sit as where she rides. I must face her, else she will send up a howl that would shame a banshee. Nevertheless, thank you just the same." From a duck cloth travelling bag the man removed, then unfolded, a small lap robe. He made a signal with his hand and the dog laid down. He then, carefully, arranged the robe upon the shoulders of the dog. "There we are, my lady, that should keep the night chill away." He retook his seat and removed a matching blanket for himself.
Before the Captain could give too much thought to his bizarre travelling companions, the driver and the postillion took their places. The dog wagged her tail and looked about in anticipation. "We are off, girl," the man exclaimed. "We will be such a cosy group, just the three of us." The carriage jerked and the harnesses began their jangling cadence as they took the road towards Crown Hill.
After a while, Mr Wellstone asked the Captain if the journey from Plymouth had been as harrowing as the groom, and the fellow Charlie, had described. The Captain replied in the affirmative. He did not wish to appear a complainer, but after a bit of coaxing Frederick told him about a few of the more spectacular calamities and colourful characters who had crossed his path the previous three days.
"So you see," the captain said in conclusion, "I should have arrived yesterday. So much for the notion that a mail coach is the fastest way to travel."
As the Captain had been entertaining Mr Wellstone and Jacki, the man had dug through his satchel and brought out a packet. In it were gobbets of cooked meat the man threw to the dog. Frederick was loathe to admit, but the meat filled the coach with an aroma that made his mouth water. Not only had the trip been fraught with disaster at every turn, but every meal presented had been unfit and barely edible. For a man used to Navy fare, this was truly extraordinary.
"Are you hungry, sir?"
"What?" The Captain was embarrassed to realise he had been intently watching the meat as it was tossed to the dog. "Uh, yes," he said, "it is fortunate that I shall be home soon." He feared he had looked foolish, practically drooling over the dog's meat. While it smelled better than anything he'd eaten in several days, such a thing would be too mortifying to bear.
"Then by all means," Wellstone said, "have something." He dug around in the bag and brought out another packet and held it out to the Captain.
Frederick stared at the oilcloth packet.
"Oh, please, be our guest."
He took the warm packet and turned it over in his hands, examining it. He did not open it.
"Be not alarmed, it is the exact same ragout as Jacki ate, only in a crust. I am afraid that when my friend has pastry, she is the victim of ," he lowered his voice, "volatile gasification." Wellstone looked to the dog, and she to him. If the Captain did not know better, a look of genuine sympathy passed between the two.
The Captain longed to follow his natural inclination, which would be to burst out laughing. But, Mr Wellstone was kindness itself and the ragout had smelled wonderful. And since he was not prone to volatile gasification, he opened the packet and began to enjoy the pastry-wrapped ragout.
The pasties finished (to Frederick's relief it had not been only he and Jacki dining as Wellstone ate one himself) and after an in-depth explanation of the dog's breeding habits, and the man's hopes of financial gain from the selling of the whelps, Frederick was finally free to think his own thoughts. After a short time, he could hear the man snoring in his corner. He noticed that Wellstone had taken advantage of the empty seat next to himself by stretching out his legs. This left the Captain to sit straight and tall next to Jacqueline. It was not long before he noticed that she had begun to stretch out, in his direction. The beast's breath, though still tinged with ragout, was becoming fouler, and stronger as she snuggled closer and closer.
Watching the remote lights pass as they made their way through the black countryside, he could not help but be grateful for the outrageous distractions of the journey. Had he been left to his own the entire way, his worry over Louisa would have eaten him alive.
Frederick rested his head and closed his eyes. Reaching into his waistcoat; he fingered some papers. Edward's express had arrived Wednesday morning. The Captain, with the help of Harville, had arranged transport as soon as possible. He had deemed it useless to send a reply as he would most likely arrive within hours of it, or even before. As it had been with his brother's letter, Frederick could not find any words which did not sound awkward. This bit of reasoning had saved him from trying to make a cogent reply. If God was truly merciful, he would have answers to the questions that had begun to plague him the moment he received the post.
Much to his chagrin, the dog was drawing closer with each step of the horses. He weighed his options. He could awaken the man and ask him to contain the animal. He could rap the beast on the nose and risk a bite, or he could keep the peace by allowing himself to be used as a pillow. None of the alternatives appealed to him.
Only thirty more miles, he thought sourly. Jacqueline's head came to rest on his arm. He drew his hand from the papers and absently scratched her ears.
As the Captain's journey was coming to a close, others were endeavouring to make themselves comfortable while awaiting happy news. "Dear, please, I must ask that you remove that pin from your neckcloth. Whenever I rest my head, it jabs me in the ear."
"It has not bothered you a bit all day ... oh, only for your sake, my dear." Mr Keye reached up and pulled out the offending jewelry. "May as well, I already look to be a scoundrel of the lowest character. I wish Catherine would hurry this up, I do not think I can endure another night on this sofa of hers."
"Speak with respect about this sofa -- it was ours once." Settling back into her husband, Mrs. Keye said, "There is not much that she can do. I blame that Abernathy boy. He got everyone all in an uproar and now -- " she shifted to face her husband, "he will not allow me in the room. 'The fewer the people, the more calm the room.' he says. Really." Her tone was brittle with derision. Though it was not clear whether the lack of regard was for the notion itself or its holder.
"Careful, dear," Mr Keye said, "You know my opinion of Abernathy. I will take him on his father's reputation alone." He kept his personal agreement with Abernathy's pronouncements to himself. "Perhaps this is no one's fault, except our own impatience." He tugged the light blanket up and over his wife's shoulder.
Mrs. Keye sighed. "I am sure that I love my son-in-law as much as any mother in the district, but I must admit that his household is run in the most unorthodox manner. With my dear girl, labouring, risking her very life to bear him children, he allows the most freakish people to populate the house. Those two fellows yesterday should have been turned away, at the door, and never allowed over the threshold."
It was now Phillip Keye's turn to sigh. "He had no choice, dear. They were here to question him about Pollard Levant's murder. You know perfectly well -- "
She made a face. "What business does the Rector have being involved in such sordidness, may I ask you? Knowing his wife's delicate condition I see no reason for him to put himself in the way of such a thing." Having said her piece, she folded her hands and awaited her husband's agreement.
Seeming to ignore her outburst, Mr Keye began again. "You know perfectly well that those men were here in an official capacity and the Rector had no choice but to speak with them."
"That may be the case, but whoever heard of a giant and a pygmy being in authority -- and brothers yet. I am sure I never did."
Mr Keye did not see how one affected the other but decided to keep still.
"Yes, who would have ever thought that we would be awaiting the birth of a grandchild in the presence of the 'Hermit of Crown Hill'? And," she added, "I am more than a bit put out that our daughter would call for that wife of his -- an American -- even with the doctor's imbecilic strictures, Catherine has more than enough sisters to choose from."
Her husband laughed. "Catherine, and Edward for that matter, have never been wont to do the usual thing. I remember when he told me he had gone to visit the man. It was absolutely barmy and I told him as much."
"Well," she replied, "he, at least, has had the common courtesy to stay out of sight. Though that little Mary creature has been scampering about free as you please." She rose again, "Even she is allowed in the room -- "
He laughed again. "I have to say she is sweet. She will talk your tongue dry. But she is very bright; reminds me of Catherine." He thought for a moment and then continued. "I suppose we are jealous. Catherine and Edward were so much a part of our family when they first married, but now they have a life here and we are not so much at the center of things as we were."
"You are most likely right," she conceded, "But still -- an American, really."
"Hush, love," he whispered in her ear. "You will need your strength to see the babe -- eventually."
"You have a fine boy, Mrs. Wentworth."
Catherine smiled at Mrs. Junkins and fell back into the pillows. She closed her eyes and expelled a ragged sigh. "A son. Phillip. The Rector will be pleased."
"Yes, he will. And the boy has good lungs. You can hear that. Now Mary," Doctor Abernathy said as he handed the boy over. "Do everything just as we talked about it."
She smiled at her charge. "He is so wiggly, sir."
"That is why you must keep him wrapped until you get to the table. Now go."
"Doctor," Mrs. Wentworth called.
He turned only after Mary safely placed the boy on the table set with the basin and towels. "Yes, Mrs. Wentworth?" He approached the bed.
"Thank you." She reached for his hand.
He stayed back. Abernathy was quite accustomed to the copious amounts of fluids and gore involved in any birth but, he had found that, while many women could stand the sight of it at the birthing of another's child, to see their own was too much to bear. He would stay back until he was more presentable. "I am afraid I must stay back. What do you need?"
"You have been here every day." She waved her hand and let it fall to her side. "And you have been so attentive. I know I told you that I wanted Mrs. Callow, but when things began ... " She again closed her eyes. After a drink of water, she continued, "I am sorry." Her eyes went from one to the other. "I am exceedingly tired. When things began, it was such a comfort that you were attending me." She closed her eyes, obviously finished with her thanks.
"There is no need to apologize." He glanced over where Mary worked. "I had to speak with the Rector. I am more than happy I was able to -- "
Mrs. Junkins mopped Mrs. Wentworth's brow. "She is fainted," she cried. She caught Abernathy's eye. The man's countenance changed markedly.
In a measured voice, Abernathy said, "Mercifully so. I have never seen a body fight so hard against its own natural inclinations. It was a long labour for any woman." He grabbed a towel, wiped his hands and approached Mary. "Ah, you have bathed and dressed Master Wentworth with speed and skill, Mary. Wonderful."
The little girl beamed. Holding the boy close, she said, "I helped with my baby brother. It was only a few weeks, but with Mamma sick ... there was no one else to help." A cloud threatened to settle over the young brow.
The Doctor took the boy and looked him over. Handing him back to Mary, he said, "Now, you have the best part of the medical occupation." Mary took the boy and brightened. "I want you to take the baby downstairs -- to the kitchen. It will be the warmest room. Tell Mrs. Graham that she is to fetch the Rector."
"I am to present him?" The girl was flushed with excitement. "I will be very careful to show the Rector just how the baby is to be held," she said earnestly.
"Good girl." Abernathy patted her shoulder and walked her towards the door. "And Mary, if the Rector asks about his wife, say that she is resting comfortably and that I shall give him a full report when I come down. Do you understand? Say nothing more." He kept his face as open as possible.
She looked from the doctor to Mrs. Junkins. The woman nodded. "I understand, sir," she said.
Just before she disappeared out the door, Abernathy called to her. She turned. "You are an extraordinarily skilled hand, Mary. When you are quite grown up, will you be my nurse?"
The question so surprised, and pleased, the little girl that all she could do was blush. She was completely unsuccessful in suppressing a giggle. The moment she was out and the door securely shut, Abernathy tossed aside the towel and turned quickly back to the bed where Mrs. Wentworth lay.
Stripping back the blankets Beatrice had so carefully straightened, he called, "Bring my bag, please Mrs. Junkins -- don't bother with tidying the bed -- spread out my instruments -- that's the way -- don't bother with the compress, I'll need you alongside me -- down here -- there is much more to do and no time to lose."
"Here ya are, sir. Take care," called the driver as he threw down the Captain's satchel.
"And you, sir," he called in disciplined politeness.
The journey was now completed. Frederick turned and studied the house for a moment. It looked as though every light was burning. Surely it was not in anticipation of his arrival. He did not like the house being so obviously awake. It did not bode well. There was a nagging pull in the pit of his stomach. It told him that any house alight at such an early hour was a sure sign of tragedy. This was a house holding vigil.
He picked up the satchel, found the flags of the walk and made his way around to the back door.
Chapter 1, Part 2
Mrs.. Graham threaded her way through the narrow hallway to the study. "He will be beside himself. Rector, Rector," she called as she opened the door. "Come quick, sir, to the kitchen if you please."
Edward and Joshua had been resting before the fire in the study. There were half-hearted attempts at conversation about topics of little importance. Graham had entered during a protracted time of silence. The edge to her voice was rather startling to the men. As he rose from his chair, the Rector, once again dared to hope that that lingering ordeal was nearly over. He also fervently hoped that his mother and father-in-law were not disturbed, as they had retired to the sitting room a while earlier.
"Yes, Graham, I am coming." He rose. "Another false alarm, do you think, Junkins?" He pulled on his jacket.
Junkins glanced in his direction. "They can't all be. Eventually there will be news." He looked back at the fire. The waiting was taking its toll on all of the inhabitants of the Rectory.
"Well," he said, as he opened the door, "if this is the real thing, I shall send word immediately." His tone was one of subdued expectancy rather than excitement. In the last few days, there had been many moments of anticipation and joy, but each one, eventually, had been replaced with frustration, anxiety and boredom.
He joined Graham in the passageway. "Is it good news, Graham?" he asked.
"The best, sir," she said. She clasped her hands together before her ample bosom and hurried him towards the kitchen.
These were the words he had been waiting to hear. The Rector picked up his pace, squeezed by the housekeeper and burst into the kitchen. He was rewarded with the picture of a beaming Mary, holding a small white bundle. Her smile settled every question.
"If you will have a seat, sir," she said as she patted the back of a kitchen chair, "I will show you the proper way to hold you son."
He looked at the bundle. "A son," he whispered. He then smiled at Graham. He could see that she was poised to rebuke the girl's impertinence. Propriety would take the back seat on this one occasion. He held up his hand and checked the housekeeper. "Certainly, Miss Mary. You seem to be an expert in this." He took the seat she indicated. With his arms placed precisely as he had been shown. Moving aside the corner of the blanket, he took his first look at his son.
When having to do with men and women, love at first sight was a convention the Rector found to be not only silly but dangerous. He had observed that, too often, when the heart was left to control all the practical matters of love, disaster was the usual result. However, in a heartbeat, he now knew that in matters to do with one's own children, love at first sight was the only possibility.
From the boy's thatch of dark hair to the impossibly small fingers with their perfect nails, he knew he was now the helpless pawn of this child.
Other than babies to be christened and various nieces and nephews on the Keye side of the family, Edward had little experience of babies. His clearest recollection of a tiny baby was that of Frederick. Nearly thirty-three years before, in the family's Liverpool kitchen, the two brothers had had their first meeting.
It had been an interminable morning of tedious work in the warehouse. His father had been more fractious than usual. It was impossible to say whether Edward's inordinate amount of mistakes had caused his father's mood or if the opposite was the truth. Either way, it had been a difficult morning for the twelve-year-old boy. He looked forward to his dinner and the comforting presence of his mother. His father would stay in the warehouse, as he always did, until late evening. She had not been awake when he had left in the morning, But since she had gotten so large with the child, it was not unusual for her to be late in rising. Edward had come into the house, but instead of smelling a good meal, found a cradle in the kitchen. His mother was nowhere in sight -- he had since come to understand how arduous birth was for a woman. Over the cradle, the cook and a six-year-old Sophy hovered. Upon seeing him, his sister had announced that this was her baby and he would not beat it; or else. It was hard to imagine that the Captain had once been identical to this red, mewing infant and that his younger sister had been a prophetess.
"... and the Doctor told me about this; if you touch his upper lip, he will take your finger in his mouth," said Mary. "I think he is hungry."
"Do what?" the Rector asked. He had not been attending to his tutor.
"Like this," she said and took his small finger. She gently stroked the baby's lip and sure enough, the tiny mouth opened and began to greedily suck his father's finger. It fascinated Edward that the babe sucked with such energy, but yet, even on the tenderest part of his finger, he could barely feel a thing.
"A little milk, Mrs.. Graham," the Rector murmured. "It seems a shame that the boy would work so hard and gain nothing by it.
Graham ladled a bit of milk from the crock and placed the small bowl on the table. "The girl has gone to fetch the Keyes," she told him. He braced himself for the whirlwind that was his mother-in-law. It instantly grieved him that these tranquil first moments together were nearly over. He comforted himself in the knowledge that, eventually, everyone would leave them, and he would have his son and his wife to himself. His wife. He wondered --
"Oh, gracious ,Mr Keye, look," cried Mrs.. Keye as she swept into the kitchen. He believed that she would have snatched Phillip right out of his arms; it was only her interest in precisely arranging the blanket that kept it from happening. He knew her mind and that a request would come soon; so, he offered her the boy. Smiling over to his weary father-in-law, he took comfort in their eventual departure.
The booming voice of Phillip Keye filled the kitchen. "He is a fine boy, Edward. Come now, Mrs.. Keye, we have encamped upon the Rector's hospitality for nearly two days, and I must have my bed." Mr Keye had taken it upon himself to bring his wife's cloak from the front hallway. There was no certainty that the two being in the same room would meet in the foreseeable future, but he would do his best to bring them together.
"Hush, dear." After a tender touch to her grandson's forehead, Mrs.. Keye gave her husband a sharp glance. "Bed, sir? How ridiculous; it is nearly morning." Little Phillip had just been laid in a basket and was sleeping soundly; raising her voice was out of the question.
"Meaning?" Keye asked.
"Meaning, Phillip Keye, that going home and going to bed is not amongst the list of things I have for you to do. Besides, what would the servants think?"
"Ha, they will think the master is exhausted and needs a rest, come my dear."
She looked to the Rector for assistance. Her son-in-law gazed upon the babe with rapturous eyes; there was no hope that he would request them to stay.
Mrs.. Keye knew her husband would have his way. She once again glanced at the back stairway. It had been over an hour since the boy had been brought down and she wondered why the Doctor did not appear. If he has blundered in any way --
"My dear, it is time." Her husband held open her cloak. His face was firm; there was no staying. She rose.
Kissing the Rector's cheek, she said, "Edward, our boy is beautiful and I promise, that the nurse will be here before noon. Tell Catherine that her Turk of a father carried me off before I could see her. All my love is with her and with you." She bent close and lowered her voice, "Do not allow this mess with that girl to ruin this joyous occasion. Let her go; make her husband contend with this." She kissed him and straightened to put on her cloak.
The Rector chose to ignore his mother-in-law's imprudent remarks. "Thank you, Mother Keye, I will give Catherine your love and," he said, glancing towards his father-in-law, "I will tell her of your being carried away. Have a safe trip home, Father," he called to Mr Keye. The older man grunted a farewell as he bumped out the back door.
They both looked upon the boy. "He is marvelous, isn't he?" Mrs.. Keye clucked. "A prouder papa there never was." She pulled on her gloves and nodded to Graham as she followed her husband out.
He breathed in relief "Might I have some coffee, Mrs.. Graham? I feel as though I am falling asleep just where I sit."
"Certainly, sir." She prepared the cup and placed it on the table, as close to the edge as she dared. The Rector had pulled a chair close to the basket and the cup was just barely within his reach. She nudged it a bit closer. Both turned at the sound of voices outside the door.
The Rector sagged at the thought of more people to interrupt his private reverie. "I can't imagine who might come at this hour ... " Just then, there was a knock and simultaneously the door opened and in entered his brother, looking exhausted and not a little anxious.
Edward stood and the brothers looked at one another for a few moments. The letter the Rector had written was cryptic at best and had given only the barest of details concerning the Captain's wife. For a moment, the extraordinary stress and immense fatigue nearly overwhelmed the younger brother. His first impulse was to bombard Edward with questions, demand answers to the swirling questions. Instead, he put himself under control and extended a hand in greeting.
The Rector took it and pulled his brother to him. "Frederick, you look as though you have been awake for days."
The Captain returned the embrace, but abruptly stepped back and began to remove his gloves. "I might say the same for you. You look as though you've not slept since I left you last." He was immensely relieved to be home, but did not wish to lose himself in sentimentality.
Just then, a mewing sound came from the fireplace. Both Graham and his brother hurried to a basket of sheets that stood on the hearth.
"There you go, wee one," Graham cooed. She handed a bundle to the Rector.
He took the wad of cloth and shh'd it. "Mustn't make a bad impression on the Captain." Edward smiled up at his brother. "Frederick, meet your nephew, Phillip. He was born just a while ago."
Frederick felt foolish. No wonder his brother looked worn beyond reason. The long-awaited day had arrived. "He looks to be a fine young man," said the Captain. Though the pinched and wrinkled face looked quite the opposite. "He looks like a Wentworth." He chose not to elaborate by saying that the boy had their father, Peter Wentworth's, brow. The relationship between Edward and his father had been marked by condemnation and at times violence. Even such an innocuous observation would be inappropriate. He stood a little distant, his emotions were completely disparate to the joyous occasion.
Edward's smile dimmed a bit. "Yes, he is a Wentworth, that much is obvious." He looked back at the boy and his face brightened again. He raptly stared at the little face. There was such delight in the look.
Frederick felt a twinge of envy. Though the Rector still, occasionally, addressed him as "my boy," the Captain was certain the look on his brother's face was one never seen before. It startled him to think his heart so puny as to begrudge the babe its rightful place. He then realised it was not ill-will towards the boy, or any silly notions of usurpation, but his own deep desire to see himself in a child. But his emotions, natural or not, did not matter as the only woman who could give him a son was nowhere to be found.
"I shall take him, sir," Graham said, nodding towards the Captain.
"Oh, yes. We should go into the study and discuss ... things. Mrs.. Graham, will you please bring us tea?"
They walked silently through the narrow passage to the study. They entered and discovered Joshua seated before the fire, asleep, with Mary dozing by his feet, asleep.
He pulled the door closed. "Gad, I forgot. Catherine called for Beatrice and Mary helped with Phillip. Best we go to the sitting room."
The room was still quite warm from the Keye's occupation. The brothers knelt together before the hearth as the Rector teazed a flame from the smoldering embers and related the household affairs of the past days.
"How is Catherine?" Frederick asked. "I would imagine she is quite pleased with such a fine boy."
Edward had been staring at the dancing fire. A look crossed his face. "Ah, Catherine," he whispered. "Abernathy has not been down yet. I am assuming she is well." He shoved a small log further into the box and watched as sparks flew up and winked out. "I have no idea what is considered normal in these cases; I'm not certain whether I should worry or not." His voice was low, but steady.
"Yes," said the Captain, "wives can cause a great deal of worry."
The Rector looked at his brother with a blank expression. "Oh, G-d. I had forgotten." He looked back to the fire. "I'm sorry. I have not meant to keep you in the dark, it is just that -- "
"I understand," Frederick said. He stood and offered a hand to Edward. "We all have our own concerns." After the Rector was on his feet, the Captain kept his hand. "Now what is going on here? When did you discover her missing?"
Edward looked away. Pulling his hand from his brother, he went to the hallway doors and closed them. "She disappeared some time Monday afternoon." He turned back towards Frederick. As quickly as possible, he related all the tragic, and near tragic, events of Monday. He gave only the barest facts concerning the murder and his suspicions of the circumstances.
For a long time, Frederick stood before the bookshelf that lined one corner of the room. On one shelf was a set of books from his childhood: The Nobility of Man in Verse. At some time, one of the books had been replaced out of order and this caused the others to follow suit. Rather than move the few, he pulled them all out and replaced them one by one. It was as though the books represented his own thoughts and by replacing them in perfect order, he would come to a perfect understanding of the situation his brother presented to him. But, unlike the books, just as one thought seemed to right itself another would come crashing in and spoil the fragile arrangement.
His brother's quiet worried the Rector, so it was with hesitation that he reached into his pocket. "I forgot this. It was delivered that night -- Junkins accepted it." The Captain looked up when he finished with the books.
As he took the note, he said, "So Junkins knows too. What of the messenger?"
He handed the note over to his brother. "Nothing in particular. He was a large fellow in Junkins's estimation. A boy, but very big. Nothing else really. Oh, except he wore thick boots and was dressed for travel." As Frederick read, Edward continued, "It was a terrible night. I owe Catherine's collapse to all the worry and -- "
He was cut off by Graham's entrance with the tea. Even after cups were poured and woman gone, the silence continued.
The arrival of the housekeeper gave the Captain an opportunity to read through the note several times. He smiled, but cut it short and resumed his stoic countenance. "I am sorry that Catherine was made unwell by all the tumult but, really Edward, this note is ridiculous." He held it out as though the fact were obvious.
He arched his brow and asked, "How so?"
"Well, firstly," the Captain said, pointing at the paper, "this is not her handwriting."
"You are certain?"
"Quite sure. Louisa's is rather spindly and crampt -- indecisive. This is more definite and much more elegant."
"Perhaps she had someone write it for her.
"Or, perhaps, someone took it upon themselves -- without her prompting. But then we must also deal with the words -- this one here, 'purgatorial'? Lord, Edward, Louisa is a nice enough girl, but she is not much of a scholar. It's a bit archaic, don't you think? I doubt very much she'd know what it meant, much less use it to describe her situation."
Edward nodded. "Junkins and I have puzzled over that. He does not think it rings true."
"It does not. If Louisa had something to say, she would say it directly. She is not one to be vague ." He continued to read. "What of these 'trifles' it mentions?"
"I don't know, as I said, Joshua answered the door and took the note. Nothing was delivered with it."
"It says that she was dreadfully unhappy -- was she?"
The Rector made a gesture of uncertainty. "I do not know, Frederick. The girl is so young." He took a half-hearted brush at the back of the sofa. "She appeared at the table with red eyes at times. She tended to solitude" He turned and ran his hand through his hair. "I hesitate to tell you this, but her behaviour had been ... odd."
"She had grown quiet and singular; as though depressed. And she had taken to walking ... alone."
"That is not necessarily a case for depression. She often walked at home."
He glanced at his brother and continued. "She had taken to talking with strangers -- Junkins has seen her."
"What do you mean, 'strangers'? Gypsies? Tramps? Thieves? Give me a hint, Edward."
All progress stopped. The Captain gently folded the note and placed in his breast pocket. He studied his brother as he did so. "So, you think my wife had something to do with his murder?
"Frederick, to be honest, I am as confused about this as you. Abernathy and I went out the following day. We know that she got money from her account -- fifty dollars -- and she bought a dark lantern and then got directions to Bramford Hall. No one knows anything of her after that. A representative of the Magistrate of Shrewsbury, a Mr Batts, came here yesterday. He is investigating Levant's murder. I told him everything I know. He does not think that she had anything to do with his death, but it was clear that he was expecting someone ... " He turned away and took a deep breath. "I was with Levant when he died. Abernathy and I even saw the men we assume are responsible. The place was secluded and obviously prepared for ... a ... romantic ..." The Rector stopped. He did not wish to go further.
HTML version: "Assignation. Tryst. Vis-à-vis. Tête-à-tête. Rendezvous." His voice rose with each word. "Come Edward, the French have spent an inordinate amount of effort to make such an ugly act sound beautiful. Tell me!"
"Assignation. Tryst. Vis-›-vis. TŐte-›-tŐte. Rendezvous. Come Edward, the French have spent an inordinate amount of effort to make such an ugly act sound beautiful. Tell me!"
"He called out her name -- he was expecting her." He did not look, but heard his brother take a seat. He did not want to see his brother's reaction.
"But you said she went to the Hall." He lowered his voice. "You are certain it was my wife he called for? -- not another woman named Louisa?"
"He spoke of her as my sister-in-law, there could be no one else." he said as he sat next to Frederick. "It is a common enough name, but there is Junkins's word on their meetings." He reached out and touched his brother's shoulder. He could feel the Captain stiffen. "I do not wish it so. As I have thought about this, I cannot say what her intentions towards him might have been. His intentions were quite obvious."
The Captain stood. "Since no one knows her intentions, I must assume that she is innocent of suspicion." The words were firm. "Louisa is a good young woman, not some strumpet on the prowl for a conquest." He walked to the fireplace and stared. There had to be more to this than just what his brother had told him. "Louisa is well-bred. Silly, heedless at times, but not immoral in any way. "
"Perhaps not under normal circumstances." Edward said."
Frederick looked up. "Normal circumstances? Meaning things were not normal."
"She knows about Miss Elliot."
The Captain turned and stared. "How?"
"It was an accidental, I assure you."
"Of course it was an accident. How did she find out?"
"Catherine and I were in our room. A comment was made, that lead to another, you know how it is with husbands and wives."
"Barely. And the prospects of me becoming more familiar are dwindling every moment. How could you?"
"It was not intentional, as I said. We were in our own bedroom. I thought our door was closed, but afterwards, it was obvious that she - Louisa - had been outside the door."
"I knew this would happen. This is the reason I did not think it the best to leave her here."
"You did not seem to object for too long. Once you deemed her content, and had many assurances of our silence about Miss Elliot, you seemed willing enough to leave her here."
"And it would seem that I was wrong. She was neither content nor was there silence on your part - "
"- and how was I to know that she would creep about and listen at doorways - "
"Gentlemen!" a voice rasped. The two men started; they had heard no one come in to the room. Junkins closed the doors behind him. "Rector, has anyone ever told you that your voice carries wonderfully in this house?" He began to straighten his waistcoat; evidence that he had roused himself in a hurry.
Edward frowned and looked from Junkins to his brother. "I am sorry. I did not realise that we were being so loud. Is Mary - "
"Mary is still sleeping. You should both hope them upstairs are preoccupied and can not hear you."
"You are quite right," said the Captain, "we did not realise - "
"I know this is a difficult time - for both of you, but it will do no good to argue." He turned to the Captain. "I do not think that the Rector intended for your wife to overhear anything hurtful to her. And," he turned to the Rector, "I am certain that she did not intend to hear anything hurtful. Either way, this is all a sad accident and all that can be done is - "
A sharp rap on the door brought the three to silence. The Rector opened the door to find the doctor in hallway holding the baby.
"Abernathy, you are finally down. How is my wife? And why have you brought the boy - " He grew pale. The baby was to comfort him when Abernathy told him ...
The doctor entered the room and brought the baby nearer the fire. "Mrs.. Wentworth is as well as one can expect after such a difficult delivery." He stopped and made a comical face at the bundle in his arms. "And, this is not Phillip. Rector," he said with ceremony, "I would like you to meet your daughter, Miss Wentworth."
"A girl," Edward whispered. Numbly, he took the bundle and Junkins guided him to the safety of the sofa.
"Yes," said Abernathy, "with Mrs.. Wentworth's size being so large I had thought that she miscalculated, when all the while it was my miscalculation. I had not accounted for twins."
"She is beautiful - Frederick, come here and look," he called.
The Captain moved behind his brother and looked at the little girl. "Well, I'll be. It is quite remarkable. Even the hair - "
"Yes, Phillip is a fine boy, and he resembles the Wentworth's, but this one - "
"That is not uncommon for babies to resemble practically everyone for a little while; it takes time for the dominant features to take their places. Does she look like some one you know?"
"Yes," the Rector looked up. "She looks like our mother, even the hair is reddish like hers. Isn't she like Mother, Frederick?"
He looked back at his daughter. "Your mama wanted to call you Rose, and I can see now that we must."
"Well, this is nice," the Doctor explained to Junkins , "I am generally chastised when the child looks like Old Uncle Jack - fat and mean. This is a lovely switch."
Junkins gave him a crooked smile and patted his arm. Standing behind the Rector and looking over the scene, he said, "I think that you are a very blessed man, Rector. You will have much to thank God for tonight."
The Doctor and Wentworth stood observing the Rector and his daughter. There had been an unreserved adoration of the boy, but with his girl, the veneration was complete.
Abernathy turned his back to the familial scene. For a moment he studied the landscape out the window, with an occasional glance towards the Captain. Eventually, he said, "The Rector should rest well tonight. He is near exhaustion." Both men glanced in that direction.
Wentworth crossed his arms as he studied his brother. "Were he an ordinary man, one would think that," he said, "but I suspect that he will spend most of his time sneaking peaks at his new little family."
"Yes, you are most likely right." He looked again out the window. "Your journey was smooth I take?"
Had he not felt exhausted, the Captain might have elaborated upon the misadventures of the King's northbound mail. As it was, he simply said, "As smooth as could be expected."
"How are things in Plymouth? I have always -- "
"What do you wish to say, Michael? I am a bit too tired for small-talk." He lowered his voice, "Is it something to do with Catherine?"
"No. Though Mrs.. Wentworth will need quite a lot of care for some time. No, my concerns are to do with my cousin."
Wentworth nodded. "As are mine."
Abernathy's brow creased. "Your tone -- " Both turned when the doors opened to admit Mrs.. Junkins. She motioned to the doctor. After a brief consultation, Abernathy sent the Rector to his wife.
In the hallway, Mrs.. Junkins took Rose and said, "When I came down she was awake, though as tired as she is, do not be surprised if she has fallen back to sleep. She will be exhausted for quite some time." Laying a hand on his arm, she said gently, "Go and look in on her. And Rector," she said, "she looks very ill, but it was a difficult birth."
He nodded and steeled himself for what he might find.
The light in the room was very low, only enough to make your way around. The room was hot; the fire had been stirred to a high flame. He stood, holding onto the door, and looked at his wife. From what he could see in the dim candlelight, Mrs.. Junkins had done what she could about Catherine's hair and gown but, there was no mistaking the fact that she had suffered at the hands of her female function. He remained motionless, and stared, until he discerned her chest rise and fall and knew her to be alive.
Quietly, he pulled up a chair and took her hand.
Her hand was warm as the room was like an oven. It was disconcerting that there was no response to his touch. When he could not sleep, late at night, he would sometimes take her hand in the dark. Even then, in her sleep, her fingers would faintly respond to his touch. Despite this disappointment, he took comfort in her deep and even breathing. When he was called to sit with one dying, there seemed to be two sorts.
The first were those with whom whom he struggled, through congested lungs, for every breath. The others were the quiet ones; those whose breathing was so shallow, it could not be heard and was barely seen. To be certain, you held your hand over their lips and hoped to feel something. No, Catherine was sleeping peacefully, if not a little more deeply than usual.
Allowing himself to believe her safe, his thoughts wandered to what two babies would mean for he and his wife. She had seen, months before, that their life was to change markedly and that they would no longer enjoy their own private company. Even with his wife's concerns, he could not suppress the joy he felt. Their lives would indeed be different, but it it had expanded and made more wonderful by the adding to it of children.
Savouring his new role as a father, he was suddenly shocked that God would be so trusting of him in particular and of humans in general, to give them charge of these tiny, helpless lives. Dumb animals are capable of caring for their young, it is all by instinct, but people ... we must raise decent, moral beings who reason and rise above their instincts. Oh, God, give me the strength and wisdom ...
"Mmm." He swatted at the light touch he felt on his ear.
"Edward." A thin voice repeated his name.
The touch returned. "Mmm." He tried to catch hold of the bothersome -- "Oh, Catherine," he said, stupidly. "I was praying and I fell asleep."
She smiled. "It has been an exhausting day, has it not?" Her hand lingered on his face. She felt tears. "Why were you crying -- oh please, God, no -- not the boy -- "
"No, no. Not tears for sorrow. I am happy ... I -- " He kissed her hand.
"The baby is all right then?" She had tried to sit up but quit the struggle at his assurances.
Edward moved the chair closer and took her hand to his breast. "I thought you knew." He was glad that he would be the one to tell her of their good fortune. "We have been doubly blessed."
Catherine smiled, but was puzzled. "Know what? I am too exhausted for riddles, Edward. What do you mean, 'doubly blessed?' "
Her face went slack. "Twins." Her voice was just a whisper. He was notcertain whether it was from exhaustion or from shock. Either would be understandable.
"Yes, my darling, twins. A boy and a girl."
She had nothing to say for a moment. When she recovered herself, she asked, "What will we name her? We never decided." It was all Edward could do to keep from laughing at her dumbfounded expression.
"I hope you do not mind, but I took the liberty of naming them both." She looked uncertain. "Of course the boy is Phillip, that we had agreed upon. As for the girl ... " he teazed.
A little tremour of her hand made him realise she was not in a way to be trifled with. He kissed the hand and whispered, "When she was handed to me, I knew you were right -- she is a Rose. And so Rose she is. Even Frederick agreed."
She smiled. Then with concern said, "The Captain is here? How is he? Is there any word yet?"
It touched him that she cared for his family so, but he scolded, "He is quite well as far as I am able to tell. But, never mind them. " She needed no details. He leant forward and kissed her forehead. "It is time that we become better acquainted with our family." As if by summons, the door opened and Mrs.. Junkins entered with a crying baby.
"I am sorry to interrupt, Rector, but you have a very indefatigable daughter. She insists on being fed."
"Oh," moaned Catherine, "I am too weak even to hold her. I do not think -- "
Handing the baby to her father, Mrs.. Junkins set to work. "You needn't worry, I shall prop her up on pillows -- your arm here," she took the baby and the Rector looked away. "... and unbutton your gown, guide her to you -- "
"Ow -w," cried Catherine. As Rose began to nurse, her mother sucked in hard against the pain.
"What is it? Why -- " The Rector stood.
"It is nothing, Rector. Suckling a babe is a painful business -- it hurts for a short time." Mrs.. Junkins said, "God knew what He was doing. Raising children is not for the faint of heart -- man or woman" She lightly touched the baby's little red tuft of hair and turned to leave. "I shall return in a few moments. Be warned, if he is awake, I shall bring Phillip." She closed the door and the couple was alone.
"I am sorry."
"Sorry for what?"
"All this, this pain." His hands gestured wide. "During the birth, I would come up and stand outside the door. I could hear you cry out ... "
"Oh, heavens," she covered her eyes. "I would have you forget everything you might have heard. No one is in their right mind at that time." She stroked his face. "I am fine. I can bear this pain." She looked down at Rose. "Children are very much worth it." With gentle awe, she touched her daughter's cheek.
The Rector, too, touched the now sleeping child's cheek. "She is beautiful. She resembles Mother amazingly, I must say."
"Does she really?"
"I was in shock when Abernathy brought her to me."
"And what of Phillip? Who does he resemble?" she was anxious to know more of her son.
Edward thought. "Well," he hesitated, "no one I know, really. He has a very round head, and is a bit jowly, and red-faced. At this point, he is most definitely his own boy; he resembles the Wentworth's but the Keye's are not out of the running."
Catherine thought. "I suppose that is all right. Beauty is not a strong suit for my part of this collaboration, but I had hoped that the Wentworth handsomeness would count for something. Perhaps he will show himself terribly clever of mind," she offered.
Edward laughed. "We have many years for them to grow more beautiful or brilliant, whichever they might need."
"I do hope so," she sighed. "Every unattractive child of my acquaintance is a perfect little beast. You wish to feel sympathy for them, but their behaviour makes it quite impossible." As she spoke, her voice faded.
"We'll have no little monsters here, I assure you." He lightly touched Rose's tiny ear. "If Phillip looks to be trouble, we'll ship him off to his Uncle Frederick. A stern taskmaster and good sea air will straighten him right out. Don't you think? Catherine? Catherine?" He held his breath, then realised her silence was nothing more than she had fallen asleep along with her daughter.
"Here Doctor. The Rector did not touch his tea and you look as though you could use a cup." He also offered a cup to the Captain.
Frederick held up a hand in refusal. The Doctor accepted and took a sip. He watched the Captain for a moment. Swirling the remainder of his tea, he asked, "I hope you do not think me presumptuous, but have you had a chance to speak with your brother about Louisa?"
"Doctor, the Captain has only just arrived. It might be best to wait on this."
Turning to Junkins, he said, "I realise this might not be the best time, but I do not think there is really a proper time for something like this, do you?"
The Captain listened. The tones and looks were of friends at odds, trying desperately to make one another see the rightness of their view. He now knew that the struggle between he and Edward was not the first this house had seen recently, and he feared it would not be the last.
" -- and I think none of us is fit to discuss anything rationally."
Junkins's tone surprised the Captain. The man's voice was always a little harsh sounding, due to his injured throat, but this last comment was raspy with emotion as well. Before he could interject, the Doctor made a reply.
"That is simple for you to say, Junkins, it is not one of yours missing -- God only knows where -- I am not surprised as you have taken the Rector's part from the beginning and I -- "
"Gentlemen, please," said the Captain.
Abernathy turned on him and asked, "So, what is your opinion of all this? What will you do?"
Frederick looked at each man. Abernathy was a study of emotion. Gross fatigue, worry and anger were the competing emotions which governed his features. For Joshua's part, there was more colour than was usual but for the most part, the Captain suspected his desires were for conciliation rather than a particular man's conviction.
"I do not have any ideas what I will do," he began. "I do know that I regret leaving my wife. Had I known that she could come to such a state, I would have taken her back to Uppercross and left her with her family. I am not -- "
Abernathy slammed his cup on the table and stood away from both the Captain and Junkins. "I see the Rector had poisoned your mind as well." He shook his head. "You all wish to make this her fault. It is not." He slapped one hand with the other on each word. "She is a good girl and I will not allow her to be slandered -- even by you," he pointed at the Captain. "You married her out of obligation and now you are obliged to play the wounded husband. You will fuss and strut and gain great sympathy, but you don't give two pins about her." He glared at them both and turned to leave. He threw the doors open and as he passed through , called back, "Go back to Plymouth, Captain. Don't waste your time, I shall look for her."
Frederick was shocked. Not at the doctor's display of emotion. Considering the delicate state of the household, it could be expected that any one of them would lose their temper and let forth with a thoughtless barrage such as had the Doctor. It was not even the accusations of strutting and fussing which caused him pause. The Doctor had misconstrued his statement and this would be set aright with assurances that the Captain held no criticism of Louisa. No, it was not Abernathy's outburst which shocked the Captain, but the revelation of the Doctor's absolute loyalty, and love, displayed for his wife.
He stared at the door as it came to a standstill. Junkins joined him before the fire. "You see how things are; what a sorry state we are all in." He again offered the cup of tea. The Captain took it this time. I think it best to ignore this. He is more exhausted than even the Rector."
The Captain took a drink and put the cup down, next to Abernathy's. "Yes, I see."
"And there is no sign that it will be letting up. Though the babies have been born and seem well, Mary said that Mrs.. Junkins had an odd look about her. She also said that the doctor was anxious that she should bring down the boy and be out of the room. I suspect things are not so well with Mrs.. Wentworth. And you know Abernathy feels a great responsibility for her."
"Yes, I know. You understood me -- about my wife."
"Yes, I understood, but as I said, he is on the verge of collapse. None of us is rational." He took the cups and returned them to the tray. He stood and looked at the Captain for a moment. "Abernathy was wrong you know, about not knowing what this is like, that she is not one of my own." He picked up the tray. "The Wentworths are my own. I do know how he feels." He turned and left the room.
The sitting room was quiet. Neither clock nor fire dared to disturb the peace. The hush mimicked the calm that settles after a storm. But the there had been no storm, just a gradual ebbing of painful emotions.
The Captain watched Junkins limp out to the hallway. The turmoil of the past days, and particularly hours, playing havoc with his gait. Past him, Wentworth could see that the doctor had mounted the stairs, but now stood mutely at the landing, leaning on the railing. The two men glanced at one another. Junkins went on to the kitchen when Abernathy looked away. Such discord between friends only added to the Captain's agony.
Thoughts swirled in his mind. Every possibility placed blame on someone he cared for deeply; he was not yet willing to come to any solid conclusions.
"Michael," Frederick called. He walked out the door and came to the stairway. "Michael, please hear me." He took two steps up, but kept his distance. He had no wish to cause Abernathy further retreat. This brought the Captain closer; if Abernathy wished to again lash out, Wentworth had put his head square in the lion's mouth. "I am sorry that everything seems to blacken Louisa's reputation. I am sure that it is not on purpose. There is so much that none of us knows. I am sorry. You have lived with this for several days, I have known nothing of the particulars until now and it has taken me by surprise.
"I am sorry, too." He seemed to shrink and fold as he took a seat on the stairway. He covered his face and sighed. The high emotion, begun on Monday, was taking its toll. Abernathy looked up at the Captain. "I am sick with worry -- and I took it out on you. I wanted you to come charging in -- sails billowing, guns blazing. I should have known that you would need time to absorb everything."
"Sorry, I have had no time to plot my tactics. But, I do need help with this, and," he nodded towards the upstairs, "Edward will be rightfully engaged with his family; Junkins is not able to go out into the world." He took a seat on the lower stair. "It will be up to us to find her. We could start tomorrow."
"Why not today?"
He leant against the spindles. "It is clear that we are all ground to powder and not fit for anything more than maiming one another."
Abernathy nodded. He glanced up the stairs, "Tomorrow is the Sabbath -- Easter Sunday in fact. What of him?" He pointed heavenward.
"Are you referring to God or to my brother?" The Captain smiled. "We shall go to church and pray that God would forgive us for breaking the commandment, and," he added, "that His hand would be upon our efforts."
The Doctor smiled. "Not to show myself superior, but the Lord Himself said, that when your oxen falls in a ditch on the Sabbath, you may do what is necessary to drag it out. We have a lost lamb to find. I do not see much difference."
"Good point," said the Captain. "We indeed have a lost lamb to find -- and, I think, a wolf or two to hunt."
The service that Sunday morning had gone well. The weather was cool, but clear. Quite as lovely as one could want on an early Easter morning. Throughout the congregation the spirits were buoyant. The people enthusiastically thanked their God for their deliverance from sin, byway of His blessed Son, and the safe deliverance of two new Wentworths into the fold. While the Rector enjoyed celebrating the Resurrection with his people, he was anxious to be finished with his duties. After the last parishioner had shaken his hand he made his way to the vestry and hastily thrown off his surplice. Gathering his texts, he was making a dash back to the Rectory. He had not seen Catherine awake that morning. Anxious to be with her, as he was about to fly out the door. With no warning it opened and placed he and Mr Cooper in danger of a collision.
Books flew, eyes opened wide, cheeks coloured, but disaster was averted, no thanks to Cooper. After the books were gathered, Cooper dusted his hands and said, "I am sorry, Rector, I realise you are in a hurry to be away from the church, but I thought I should tell you that the Tatwell's were extremely perturbed by your sermon. I tried to calm them but to no avail." The curate came fully in the room and closed the door, but not before he scrutinized the hallway. Seeing the Rector's surplice hastily thrown on a chair, he picked up and brushed it smooth and hung it in its rightful place.
Wentworth was puzzled. "What is the matter? Were you expecting someone? Tatwell perhaps?"
"No," cried Cooper, his eyes flashing. "I just wanted to be certain that no one was loitering and would hear us speaking." He pushed away from the door and went to the desk where he straightened some papers.
Wentworth turned his attention away from his curate's peculiar behaviour to the more pressing matter at hand. "I am surprised at what say about Tatwell. He is intelligent and discerning, I can't think what might have thrown him." For a moment he was torn as to whether he should stay, seek out Tatwell and soothe his perturbation, or go home and be with his family. He gathered his books, having decided. "If you see Mr Tatwell, tell him that I shall call on Tuesday. I will give his difficulties my full attention then." He again headed towards the door.
"But sir," Cooper cried. He took a few steps and blocked him. Both of the Tatwell's -- and some others -- are quite disturbed that you would compare your own son with the Lord Jesus. I must confess that I too was shocked -- "
The Rector gaped at his curate. Mr Cooper might just as well have announced that he was now the King of England; he could not have provoked a more shocked response.
"Yes, sir. I listened very closely, and it did seem, to some of us, that you drew a rather uncomfortable parallel between you and your new son and -- " his voice sank to a whisper, " -- the Lord God and His own beloved Son." The Rector swore that he saw Cooper bob, as though just speaking such profane words would warrant a blow from Heaven itself.
He quickly thought over the text of the message. While it had been written in great haste, and under the most emotional of circumstances, he did not feel it blasphemy to state his new understanding as a father. He had seen several men nodding as he spoke of his feelings towards his son and how loathe he would be to sacrifice him, even for the good of a dying and sin filled world. He did not think his words, in any way, constituted blasphemy. He looked at Cooper and felt uneasy.
"Cooper, surely you cannot believe that I would commit such sacrilege. I said that, with the birth of my own son, I stand more in awe of God's love than ever. And, that now, I understand much more the significance in sacrificing of His own Son. There was no comparing myself to God."
The curate stood a bit taller and brought his hands together before him; as though readying himself to give a lecture. "You must admit sir, it could be said that you made yourself to be one who now understands the mind of God. And to have such a perverse revelation come to you through such a ignoble means as childbirth -- " Cooper searched for words. Just as Wentworth was about to speak, he interrupted. " -- to even mention such a thing from the pulpit is vulgar and disgusting. I warn you, there are many who share my feelings."
The two men stared at one another. There had been no vulgarities from his pulpit, nor had he proclaimed any intimate knowledge of the mind of God. This accusation, added to other incidences, made the young man's grasping nature shine like crystal. Divide and conquer, eh, Cooper? So this is how you will do it.
It was senseless to continue the discussion. Mr Cooper had used well the element of surprise. The Rector would need quiet reflection to rebut the accusations. He could feel his stomach churning and his heart beginning to race. This was a battle best left to another time.
Struggling to juggle his greatcoat and an armload of books, the Rector said, without looking Cooper's way, "As I said, I shall send a note round to Tatwell." He looked directly at Cooper, "You, I shall talk with tomorrow." He opened the door and walked out, leaving the door, and Cooper's mouth hanging open.
It had taken all his self control not to run to the rectory. He had not run, but had been less than cordial to Graham while she had struggled to free him from his coat and hat. In an unusual turn, after gathering his books, he had suddenly dumped them into her arms with orders for her to replace them. All he wanted was Catherine's company. The nurse had brought the babies. A few moments with them and a few words from his wife was all it took to clear his mind of the morning's events. All the Rector's domestic affairs were in order until his wife insisted that he eat his dinner, in the dining room, along with the Captain and the Doctor. "I shall not have you hovering over me while our guests are left to languish." He argued that the Captain was family and did not require entertaining as though he were an honoured guest. And, if one examined the situation closely, it would be admitted that the Doctor was actually a paid employee; lucky to be dining at table at all. Neither argument had impressed her. They had, in fact, caused her to look at him in that way that wives have. Her wish was reluctantly granted.
The meal had seemed extraordinarily long as the gentlemen had eaten in comparative silence. Any news from the greater world was lost on them and none felt the need to try and navigate the treacherous waters of recent domestic events. The Rector was especially quiet, even when Abernathy offered his congratulations on the fine Easter sermon.
The Captain had agreed but said little else until after the sweet had been served. When Graham had closed the doors, he said, "The doctor and I are going out after we are finished here."
Edward looked up. He touched his napkin to his lips and said, "Oh? The fresh air will most likely do you both good. All of us have been cooped up in this house for too long." He went back to his food.
The two gentlemen exchanged hopeful glances. "Uh, we intend to go to begin searching for Louisa."
"I questioned everyone I could think to. I got nothing for my troubles."
"Yes," said Abernathy. "But there are two of us. It is unreasonable to think that you were able to talk to everyone who might have seen her. Or, perhaps someone has remembered something since Tuesday. We think it would be worth the trouble."
"I see," said the Rector.
"Edward, we are merely telling you as a courtesy. There has got to be some indications of where she has gone -- how she got there. We intend to find her -- Michael and I. The only reason I tell you is that some might think it improper that we be racketing around the countryside on a Holy day. I thought I would warn you. I am not asking your permission."
Edward said, "No doubt, if there is any gossip, my sparrow-like curate will be on my windowsill before ev'ntide, but I will tell him what I tell you now." He folded his napkin and stood. "I hope I would never be the kind of man who would use religious convention to keep anyone from doing was was right and proper." He began to leave the room. "The Lord's harshest words were reserved for those who stood fast by the Law while many suffered -- and needed help." The Captain felt his brother's hands on his shoulders. His voice lowered. "I am sorry I have failed you in the charge you gave me. Go and find her." He felt a gentle touch on his head.
They watched the Rector leave the room. The Captain wiped his mouth and folded his napkin. Looking at Abernathy, he said, "Why is it that we are especially quick to think so meanly of the very ones we claim to care for the most?"
He shrugged and said, "I do not know. I wish I had not been so straight forward. I think he took it as an accusation."
The Captain rose. "No, he did not." He looked towards the door once more. "Come Abernathy, he has given us his blessing and I do not wish to waste it or the light. We had best be off."
Their search Sunday had proven fruitless. Much of the population of Crown Hill, and the surrounding countryside, were celebrating the Resurrection with indoor family gatherings. Few were about, and those who were, had nothing new to tell them. Monday had proved no better. They had begun mid-morning, after the Doctor's daily visit to Mrs.. Wentworth. They had ranged much further, taking in a sizable area surrounding Glencoe proper, but still there had been no one with information concerning Mrs.. Louisa Wentworth. When the gentlemen had parted Monday evening they had agreed to comb the grounds of Bramford Hall the following morning.
The two gentlemen were blessed by the warmth of the bright sunshine and mild breezes that played through the fields between which they passed. They had been quiet as Abernathy's curricle bounced along, neither wishing to spoil the other's peace. When the Captain spotted something in a ditch they stopped. Disappointed, they climbed back in the cart and continued on their way.
The Doctor took the opportunity of the interruption to speak. "On Sunday, at dinner, you brought up the notion that we are quick to think meanly of those we care for."
"Yes. The rush to judgment. It seems to be a character flaw of mine."
"To my chagrin, I think I must join you in that confession."
"Yes, well, Edward has been tired and not as careful as he might be in the things he says -- "
"I don't mean the Rector," said Abernathy. "I mean you."
The Captain shifted. "How so?"
Abernathy looked straight ahead. "It is no secret now how you came to marry my cousin. I do not know the exact details, but I am aware of the overall circumstance."
The Captain remained silent.
The Doctor cleared his throat. "I had no right to accuse you -- that bit about strutting and fussing -- you came and that shows you do care in some fashion."
Wentworth leant back and covertly studied the Doctor. It was obvious that the Doctor cared for Louisa, but how much was a mystery. Perhaps the Doctor harboured a secret hope. A hope that could not be allowed to continue.
"Doctor, do you agree that it is good for a man to know himself and his own peculiarities?"
"Yes, of course." He was startled by the question's plainness. "To not examine, and understand oneself, is foolishness."
He glanced the Doctor's way, then back to the road. "Very true. In the past few months I have had the opportunity to see myself as never before. My public man, the one that others see, is quite different than the private one with which I am intimate."
"I think," said the Doctor, "that can be said for us all. And a good thing I think."
The Captain did not agree outwardly, but wished to. "Since we think alike on this, please, do not bother with an apology about the other night. Just know that, no matter how my marriage came about, I fully intend to make her happy. I have come to love her very much." It was the plain and simple truth. He hoped it did not hurt too badly.
There was nothing about the Doctor's countenance that would betray his thoughts. He halted the curricle, secured the reins and climbed down. The Captain was puzzled, and a vision of the two of them engaged hand-to-hand flew through his mind. He realised the foolishness of such a thing when he looked around and saw they had arrived at the gates of Bramford Hall.
Bramford Hall stood silent, but not empty. The sheer curtains in one of the bedroom windows stirred. Fresh air from the hallway had entered along with one of the new occupants.
The last occupant of the cream and rose coloured bedroom had been an devilish woman. In her short stay at Bramford Hall, she had aggravated and abused every servant; save little Alice Tedlow, who could rightly be accused of worshipping the creature. Besides her prodigious personal needs, the woman had required the furnishings of her room to be rearranged according to her exacting instructions. After this had been accomplished, she had required that certain carpets be pulled up -- necessitating another move of the furniture -- beaten and then put back down. Had a woman of such particular tastes been in residence on this particular Tuesday, she would have been appalled, perhaps a bit frightened, to observe the intruder who now occupied her private territory.
The man was huge. He moved about the room as though he were normal-sized, confined to a house of miniatures. Manoeuvring through the room with a minimal grace, he went to the window and surveyed the outer yard and the drive. Seeing two men at the gate, he reached into his pocket and drew out a small, collapsible telescope. He raised it to his eye. Resting his arm on the tallboy next to him, he examined the men more closely. He watched them with no particular alarm.
"What are you up to, Pitney?" A tiny man, a copy of the large man, save their sizes, entered the room.
"Men, more than one. Two?"
The large man nodded. "And what, in your inestimable opinion, are the men doing, Pitney?"
"Do we know them?" he asked, coming to stand next to the giant. He showed no impatience with the single-word answers and he made no moves to commandeer the scope.
The little man's face lightened. "Ah, Doctor Abernathy, eh? Who is the other?"
The shoulders shrugged and an indistinct sound came from the back of his throat. He then snorted. "Rector."
"Ah, the Rector. He has left his wife and children for a time then. I wonder -- "
The smaller man frowned. "Not the Rector? Who then?" Pitney was not usually wrong in his identifications.
"Comparable? Really Pitney, this singular proclivity of yours is most trying at times. What do you mean by comparable?"
"Oh, the second fellow resembles the Rector?" He stood on tip-toe, looking towards the gate, but he could not see the men with any clarity. "I think, Pitney, we may be in the presence of the Rector's brother -- the missing woman's husband -- Captain Frederick Wentworth, late of HMS Laconia.
"Sailor." There was wistful quality to the man's voice. He handed the other man the glass.
He put it to his eye as he said, "Yes, Pitney, a sailor - a captain of the Royal Navy no less. Yes, it is Wentworth. I recognise him from a rendering in the Times." He reached up and lightly touched the other man's hand. "Pitney, please leave your knots alone. I know you are not used to a neckcloth, but you have done so well in keeping it in place." He released his hand and moved the glass to his other eye. "Ah, they are heading towards the house. Good. Get along and tell Clarke to get tea up, Pitney. I think we shall have company." Pitney obeyed and walked towards the door. "And Pitney, tell him to slice a bit of that cake from last night. I think our guests will like some."
Pitney stopped and said, "Can't."
The man's shoulders sagged and he lowered the glass. "And why not, Pitney?"
The short man turned. As he folded the glass, and slipped it into his pocket, he said, "Really Pitney. I go to all the trouble of freeing you from the palace, so that I would have a squire for my quest -- the only reason her ladyship allowed me to bring you was my solemn vow that I would keep you from gluttony. Now this." The little man stood feet planted, hands on hips, plainly annoyed. "What might you propose as a suitable refreshment?"
Pitney coloured and shifted on his cumbrous feet. He looked at the smaller man and then to his hands. "Quail?"
"I know you like quail, and think it quite appropriate for all occasions, but it is not quite the thing for tea." He sighed and turned back to the window. "Ah, a nuthatch in the elm. Go on, Pitney. Clarke is clever, I am sure he will cast about the larder and find something suitable." Pitney left and the little man turned to call out, "Mind, if Clarke allows you to put out the service, saucers under the cups."
"Aye, Monty," drifted back to him, along with the creaking of stairs. It had probably been a long time, if ever, that they had experienced such weight.
An acknowledgment of instructions was the closest one ever got to a multi-worded answer from Pitney. Monty continued to stare out the door. His brother was an idiot in the minds of many. God knew he had fought enough battles, bodily as a child and verbally as an adult, to keep Pitney with out of harm's way. This "quest" had been another diversion to allow his most proper family time to find another hobbyhorse and forget about the embarrassment of Pitney. "What a pair we make, Little Brother." Giving himself a mental shake, Monty watched the Doctor and the Captain slowly, but steadily, make their way up the drive. "Yes, this will be a good party, I'm sure of it."
Continued in Part 2
© 2001 Copyright held by author