Love Suffers Long and Is Kind, Volume IV
ÎLove beareth all things.' Anne took a deep breath as she silently recited the text. There was certainly a great deal to bear with these days. Once again, her godmother was bringing up the subject of her wedding dress. It was extremely tiresome. Anne's lips twitched at the irony of it all: the words which had supported her during the agonies of Frederick's wedding must now help her to endure her own! Anne quickly hid her smile; one must take care to preserve a grave countenance whenever her ladyship was in high dudgeon, as she was now.
"Well! You must face the facts as they are, Anne," Lady Russell was now saying. "You simply cannot wear that Blue Monstrosity of Mary's! Even if it is perfect for you, which I am very sure it is not, it will never do!"
Anne lowered her gaze and wished, for perhaps the hundredth time, that her godmother would keep her opinions to herself.
Lady Russell resumed her agitated pacing about the parlour. "Even under the best of circumstances, it is impossible! Elise can never complete the alterations in your absence," she fretted. "No, that gown is altogether unacceptable. What was your sister thinking?" Lady Russell halted mid-stride, and nearly glared at Anne. "To think that I would live see the day when Lady Elliot's daughter would be reduced to taking charity-gifts from the Musgroves!"
This, of course, was the real issue; and as it was unanswerable, Anne wisely held her tongue.
"But whatever shall we do?" Lady Russell gave a sigh of vexation as she turned to the window.
"Our options are nonexistent, unfortunately," Anne replied carefully. "We must resign ourselves to accepting the circumstances as they are. I must wear Mary's dress or one I own already. For I cannot risk an outing to Crewkherne or even Taunton to purchase something more appropriate."
"Crewkherne? Humph! I should say not!" Lady Russell remarked wrathfully. "I had rather have you wear that Obnoxious Rag of your sister's than to be married in a Made-Up Gown!"
"Then there is nothing to be done," Anne said patiently. "I am to be married on Sunday, Amanda. That is the principal thing."
Lady Russell composed herself with visible effort. "But my dear," she countered, more gently, as she took a seat beside Anne, "surely you have dreamed about your wedding day. Every young woman has! And I am certain that in your dreams you did not wear that Violent Shade of blue!"
A thought rose, unbidden, and before she could check herself, Anne spoke it: "After -- after Mr Elliot, I ceased to dream about any wedding at all."
Lady Russell was instantly stricken. "My dear, I did not mean ..." She moistened her lips, then said bracingly, "I see no reason to bring that man's name into our conversation! Indeed, I have purposed never to see or speak with him again!"
"If James has his way, neither shall I," Anne replied softly. "Thank God."
"There, now," Lady Russell chirped, with a pat to her goddaughter's knee. "That is a better thought! You have all the more reason to look your best on your wedding day, my dear! For your heroic groom!"
"James is heroic, isn't he?" Anne agreed, and her lips curved into a smile.
"A hero deserves a beautiful bride, and vice-versa. ÎNone but the brave deserves the fair,' as you recall," Lady Russell quoted.
Anne laid her head to one side. "I suppose," she said thoughtfully. "But James is not precisely like other men. He thought me beautiful on the most horrid day of my life! In my oldest pink silk, with my hair in a shambles, and ..."
"But you have waited so long to be married, Anne!" Lady Russell interrupted. "I do not want the day to be a disappointment to you!"
Anne dropped her gaze and smoothed the fabric of her gown. "I do not mind," she murmured smilingly. "I am to have a perfectly wonderful husband."
Lady Russell went on to say some other things, but Anne answered very much at random. Her thoughts were far away: she was now in the hedgerow at Uppercross, now in his library, now seated on the edge of her bed -- everywhere with James, cradled in his warm, comfortable embrace.
"Anne, you are not attending!" Lady Russell frowned. "I said, it is only fitting that your wedding be everything you have dreamed of!"
Anne was obliged to look up. "But I never dreamed of marrying James," she stammered. "I mean, I did, but not in the common way, not as a day-dream. It, it all happened so unexpectedly! But with Freder Ò"
Anne bit her lip; she bent to examine her pearl ring as she searched for a way to retrieve her disastrous slip. She could think of nothing, so she said, "I suppose I've never envisioned myself on my wedding day at all, Amanda. In my mind, I have seen only the bridegrooms. Er, I mean ..."
"Bridegrooms?" Lady Russell raised an eyebrow. "It is fortunate that Captain Benwick wears a uniform, then," she said, awfully.
Anne could not hold back her smile. "Yes, isn't it?" she gurgled. "Although, I think James looks best in that old black sweater, with his hair all rumpled, and coal on his cheeks ..."
Lady Russell was not amused by these romantical recollections; she doggedly brought Anne back to answer her question. "Even as a little girl, you never dreamed of being a bride?"
Anne sighed at her godmother's determination. "I played at it, once or twice," she admitted, "but that does not signify now." She paused. "Mother had the most wondrous dress," she said slowly. "It was white ..."
Lady Russell beamed. "Ah! This is much better! White, not blue!"
"It was covered over with lace," Anne continued, as memories began to overtake her. "The gown was from her Season, her first one," she explained with a faraway smile. "It was kept with some others in a trunk in her dressing room, as I recall. She allowed me to put it on, although it was much too large. She put flowers in my hair; she sang and we danced together." Anne hesitated. "But that was long ago, before she became so ill ..."
Lady Russell frowned in an effort of memory. "A white dress with a lace overskirt," she murmured. "Goodness, Anne, could your mother have let you play with the gown from her Presentation?"
"I suppose so. Isn't it odd that I should remember it now? I would very much like to see those old gowns again, but that cannot be. Father had Mother's things cleared away so soon after her passing. It is a pity."
"Men are altogether too practical, sometimes" Lady Russell grumbled.
Anne smiled fondly at her godmother. "It does not matter, Amanda, truly," she said gently. "James won't mind what I wear. The day will be special for itself, without the fuss of pomp and finery." Anne fingered the tiny silver ship which hung about her neck. A longing to see James' letter, and to read his tender words, now rose within her. At length there was a lapse in the conversation, and she excused herself.
Lady Russell remained where she was. She stared hard at Anne's empty chair. All at once, she stood and crossed the room to sit at her desk. She pulled forward a sheet of paper, and after a moment's deliberation, began to write. Presently she rang for her butler.
"Longwell," she said crisply, as the man entered the room, "here is a note which must be taken to the Hall without delay -- this very moment, in fact! You must take care to give it to Watkins. No," she amended, pulling the letter back with a frown, "not Watkins. She's sure to be difficult, as always. You must deliver it to Harkness, instead." Lady Russell tapped the corner of the letter on the desk as she thought. "Yes, it must be Harkness," she decided. "Anne has always been a favourite of his, has she not?"
"Very good, my lady," Longwell said, as he took the note and made his bow.
"I may be an old crosspatch," Lady Russell muttered to herself, "but I do know a thing or two about Anne."
"Mary. What are you doing in that curricle?" Beatrice called. She had sent the girl to wait by the cart.
"Doctor Abernathy said that I might ride with him to the Rectory."
He did? The man takes too much upon himself. Just as Mrs Junkins opened her mouth to order the girl down, Abernathy passed by. "Yes, I will take her along with her bag." He turned. "If that meets with your approval."
"It does not," Beatrice said, "But this entire scheme is outside my approving." She took a step closer to Abernathy, glanced around and lowered her voice. "She is entirely too young to play baby nurse."
Abernathy stepped closer, but his voice remained firm. "If I were of the opinion that she would do nothing more than play, Mrs Junkins, I would not have recommended that she go to the Wentworths."
She glanced at Mary. "She is a little girl who forgets to draw water unless reminded."
"Mrs Junkins, Mary is quite capable. But more than this, she has the gift of medicine in her hands. I can see it." He leant closer and finally lowered his voice, "If she were a boy, I would beg you to give her to my uncle for an apprentice."
His intense look was unsettling. Passion in a man could be dangerous, and by his firm countenance, Abernathy was a very passionate man.
"I realise she is young, but she is nearly thirteen. Not too young to help care for the Wentworth babies. Furthermore, you have my word that this is only is only temporary. I will do everything in my power to find another nurse as soon as possible. I am going to Shrewsbury this afternoon. Who knows, I may find a woman immediately."
The sound of approaching steps brought them both back to the present. "You left without your shawl, dear." Joshua had joined them. The house was closed and he was ready to take Mary to the Rectory. He placed the shawl, laying his hands gently on her shoulders. "Come. I do not wish to miss bidding farewell to the Captain and his wife," his gravelly voice whispered.
She bowed to his request and went to the cart.
"Do not think her unkind. She will miss the girl."
Abernathy's face loosened. "Ah. I see." He laughed a little. "I was worried for a moment." He looked over to her arranging the reins. "She can be a bit ... " He was at a loss.
"Severe. I know. She has her reasons." He began to shamble his way to the cart then suddenly stopped. "Are you free later, Doctor?"
"Ah, not today, Mr Junkins. I am to Shrewsbury. If I am lucky, I shall be back tomorrow or the next day. Why do you ask?"
Joshua rubbed the back of his neck and glanced towards the ladies. Both were engaged. "I need to ... ahem ... I find I am in need of your advice. About a ... personal matter."
"Certainly, sir. I could come and consult as soon as I return."
Again he glanced about. "Perhaps it would be best forgotten." He turned to the cart.
"Perhaps we could take a ride in the country," suggested Abernathy. " -- and have refreshments at my home -- I could show you my office -- and my surgery?"
Joshua stopped. He smiled. "Yes, Doctor, that would be just to my liking. Thank you." He turned back towards the cart and called, "We must be off, Doctor." He waved to Mary and called, "You behave, young one."
Mary giggled. "Yes, sir," she said as she nodded.
Abernathy followed the man, intending to help him into the cart. Before he could offer, Mrs Junkins was braced and ready. With her hand and the aid of her shoulder, Junkins was up in his seat. The doctor watched and knew that no matter his notions, they were a comfortable pair. As she steered the cart down the drive, Abernathy mounted his curricle and said, "Are you ready for any adventure that may await, Mary?" With a snap of the reins, the horse went immediately to a trot.
"Adventure, sir?" She watched the road, but glanced now and again his way.
He smiled. "Yes. Adventure is anywhere and everywhere. You must always be prepared to engage it."
She looked at him carefully. "Yes, Doctor," she said carefully, "I think I am."
What am I thinking? This is lunacy! Lady Russell thought, as she walked briskly along toward the Hall. The empty valise she carried bumped against her legs. A gown three decades old, faded and threadbare, and likely eaten by moths! she fretted. It will be horrible beyond imagination! It was ridiculous to even consider such an outlandish idea, but what else could she do?
Lady Russell took a deep breath. It would not be right to pass judgment until Elizabeth's trunk was opened and the dress was seen. Then it would be decided what could and could not be done. Thus admonished, her ladyship set her teeth and marched resolutely on.
Presently, the mansion was gained; unfortunately, Lady Russell's frame of mind did not improve with her arrival. She stood in the spacious, marble-panelled entry hall and looked about her with pursed lips. It grieved her to think of her dear neighbour, who was now driven from his ancestral home.
As the butler took her outer garments and the valise, a soft clicking caught Lady Russell's attention. She turned, and gasped.
"Good gracious, Harkness! What is that doing here?" she exclaimed. "Sir Walter would never approve!"
Harkness wrinkled his nose at the sleek greyhound, which moved to stand meekly at his side. "It belongs to the Admiral's nephew, my lady," he said stiffly. "The Young Person brought several of the Creatures when he came, I am sorry to say."
"Several? Have they the run of the house? Where is Admiral Croft?" she demanded.
"Admiral and Mrs Croft are travelling, my lady. We do not expect them until next week," Harkenss replied, and reached for the bell pull. A footman appeared almost immediately.
"Mr Reginald Croft is in the Morning Room, Norman," Harkness said severely. "Return the Animal to his custody, at once." He watched with satisfaction as the man led the dog away, before turning to Lady Russell.
"I beg your pardon for the interruption, my lady," he said politely. "And now, if you would be pleased to follow me?"
While Harkness led Lady Russell to a little-used sitting room at Kellynch Hall, another butler entered the baronet's drawing room in Bath. "Mr William Elliot," Burton announced gravely.
Elizabeth looked up from her work at the desk. "Good morning, sir," she murmured, closing the ledger before her.
"Good morning," Mr Elliot returned. His brows rose as he observed the ledger. "What's all this?" he said pleasantly. "Have you taken up a course of study, Miss Elizabeth? How original."
Elizabeth pursed her lips before she answered. "Because of Anne's jaunt into the country, I find myself obliged to arrange her Wedding Tea, that is all." She hesitated, then said: "Would you care to sit down, Cousin?"
Mr Elliot remained where he was. "You are alone this forenoon?" he inquired pointedly.
"I am, after a manner of speaking. Father and Mrs Clay have each caught the cold and are confined to their bedchambers."
"Both are indisposed?" His eyes sparkled outrageously. "How inconvenient for you."
Elizabeth laid down her pen. "I am being interrogated, I see. What else you would like to know, Mr Elliot?"
"No, no, nothing, upon my honour," he said cheerfully. "But, I do not stay; I have come to bid you farewell, Cousin. I find I must leave Bath. Please, give my regards to your father."
"Indeed?" Elizabeth's face showed her surprise. "Shall you not attend my sister's wedding?"
"My business is too pressing to allow me to remain even one day longer."
Elizabeth studied him for a long moment, before she gracefully extended her hand. "Good-bye, then, Cousin. I trust that you will not be away too long."
Mr Elliot smiled as he bowed over her hand. "Who's to say?" he murmured agreeably. ÎPresent mirth has present laughter; what's to come is still unsure.' Perhaps, it is better said, adieu."
She now suspected that he was laughing at her. "Very well then, if you prefer, adieu," she said sharply.
Elizabeth watched him go with narrowed eyes. Mr Elliot was the most provoking of men! And what had he meant by that quotation? Knowing him, it was probably some sort of private joke.
With a weary sigh, Elizabeth reopened the ledger and resumed writing.
"You have Elise to thank, not me," Lady Russell said, as she struggled to fasten the buttons which ran up the back of Lady Elliot's gown. "The trunk was discovered in the closet of her former bedchamber, of all things. Why she should want it is beyond me!"
"Dear Elise. She was truly devoted to Mother." Anne strained to look over her shoulder. "Have you finished yet, ma'am?"
"Very nearly," grumbled Lady Russell. "Gracious, these buttons are tiny. And there are so many of them! There!"
Gingerly, Anne gathered the heavy satin underskirt in her hands and left the dressing room. Lady Russell did not keep her full length mirror there, as she thought the light was too poor. Anne slowly moved across the room and came to a stop before the looking glass. Carefully, she smoothed the lacy overskirt. For a long moment, there was silence.
"Oh, Anne." Lady Russell's voice was choked with emotion; she dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief.
"It is a beautiful gown, is it not?" Anne whispered.
"It is not the gown, dearest girl. You are the exact image of your mother! Did you know that?"
"Then I shall wear this, in remembrance of her," Anne decided.
"Heavens, no!" Lady Russell objected. "I don't know what possessed me to consider such a scheme!"
"You were desperate; you said so yourself. And this is much nicer than Mary's gown."
Lady Russell wrung her hands. "It is not at all the thing, Anne!" she wailed. "Just look at the waist! Gracious, it is all wrong! And those panniers make it hideously antiquated!"
"I shall not wear the boned underskirts," Anne pointed out. "And with a few simple alterations, it will look very well. This extra fabric along each side, for instance. I could take in those seams myself." She dimpled. "I did the reverse, for Mary's gown."
"I am afraid you would be wasting your time, my dear. It is hopeless. Look at the sleeves. Very out of fashion."
Anne studied her reflection. "The lace has faded to a lovely ivory colour," she offered.
"It was ivory to begin with," sighed Lady Russell. "Your mother looked washed-out in white, as do you. Your grandmother Stevenson wisely decided to use this colour, instead."
"And the moths have not been at it, nor is it stained," Anne persisted, spreading the folds of the skirt. "I do not mind the low waist. And if it were known to be my mother's dress, and that I wore it for sentimental reasons --"
"Foolish sentimentalism," Lady Russell murmured, as she examined the fabric more closely. "You would look as if you had come from a costume ball, my dear! And against the blue and white of Captain Benwick's uniform, why, that ivory would be dreadful!"
Anne regarded her godmother for a long moment. She raised her chin defiantly. "Ours will be a very small wedding, Amanda. James will not mind what I wear. I think this dress is perfect."
"But, Anne --"
Lady Russell sighed to see the look of mulish determination on Anne's face. She lowered her gaze. Very well did she remember: her friend Elizabeth had been every bit as romantic -- and just as determined to have her way. "Indeed, Anne-dear," she muttered, "you are very like your mother in that gown."
The Captain entered the room, looking first to the two trunks and few bags to go down. The carriage had just arrived and after a short talk with it's driver, was ready to be loaded. He glanced across to the window. Louisa stood in dark relief against the bright morning sun flooding through the curtains.
"Mary has just arrived," she said.
The Captain came up behind her. She leant into him and he put his arms about her.
"I dread saying good bye. So have put it off."
"You cannot do that forever, you know. Unless you intend to creep away like a sneak-thief"
"No." She turned. "I know I must do the proper thing. That does not make it any easier." She slid her arms around his waist and rested her cheek against him. "I was just thinking about how so much of our life together, thus far, has been lived in this little room."
"True enough." He kissed her forehead. "Are you disappointed? Despise not the humble beginning, my brother always says."
"No, never disappointed." she shook her head. "Last night, I could not sleep. And I was struck how silly people are about love."
He drew back. "How so?"
"To read what the learned say of it, it is like an event." She looked into his eyes. "A great battle won or lost, a celebration of great import. All sorts of giddiness and nervous laughter. But I think I have to disagree."
He smiled. "You must disagree with all the learned amongst us. Why, pray?" He rested his chin against her cheek and waited.
"It is not that simple. I see that clearly now. I have come to think that it is in common little rooms, like this one, where souls and hearts are welded together."
He smiled down at her. "I am astonished. I had not realised that Sadie Musgrove had raised such a philosopher."
"Please. Don't tease me."
"I am not teasing." He bussed her cheek and settled a serious expression on his face. "I am glad to see my young wife is given over to serious thought. A well-lived life takes serious thought." It was not until recently that he began to understand this truth.
Louisa rested herself against him and sighed.
"You must go and say your good byes. I hear stirring in the hallway, you may catch them all at once." He kissed her forehead.
She smiled up at him, nodded and without a word moved to the door.
He touched her hand. "I will fetch you when we must leave." She nodded again and continued out.
In the hall she met Mrs Junkins and Mary bringing the babies to Mrs Wentworth.
"Mrs Wentworth. I understand you are to leave us this very day." Mrs Junkins opened the door.
"Yes, I must leave for a time, but I shall return." She did not look at Mrs Junkins, but gazed at the baby she held. "They are so sweet."
"Yes," said Mary in a hushed tone. Leaning over the Rector's wife, she continued, "And I am very glad you have trusted them to me, Mrs Wentworth."
Catherine took the bundle and brought it close to her face. She took a deep breath. "I know you will be a great help to us, Mary. Sister," she said, holding out her free hand.
Louisa kissed her cheek and drew as close as she could. The baby crowed and they parted.
"I feel so badly. You need my help with the babies and here I am, leaving you quite helpless."
"Oh, no, not helpless. Look about. We will manage very well indeed. I have Mary for right now and Abernathy is looking for a proper nurse." She squeezed Louisa's hand. "As for your leaving, it is for the best of reasons. He wishes you to go with him. I would not allow you to stay under those circumstances."
"Come Mary, we shall leave them," Beatrice said.
Louisa took Rose who had just awakened. She crowed in response to her brother.
"I have to go," she said, still awkward holding the wiggling bundles. "I would stay if I were able, but I am a witness. Otherwise -- "
"Louisa, hear me, he wants you to go." Catherine unwrapped the boy and lay him next to her. As she reached for Rose, she said, "Mark my words, his countenance says that no matter the reason, he is glad that you will be with him."
"Do you really think so?"
She laughed. "Yes, I do."
"I hope he does. I am very glad to go."
"And how exciting, Madeira. Think of it."
"Frederick has told me a little of what it is like. It sounds lovely."
"So many would not go there for their health were it not also lovely. Look twice at everything."
"Yes. Once for yourself, and once for me."
"I will. In fact, I shall draw everything I see and when I return you will have a picture book of the whole voyage."
Catherine smiled. "I look forward to that."
Both were startled by a knock and Frederick reminding her of the time.
Louisa brushed back the tears and again hugged Catherine. "I love you, Sister. And I shall be back as soon as I am able."
"We will be waiting, Dear. And looking forward to your return."
Louisa stood, holding onto Catherine's hand. She leant for one last kiss. As she passed her husband, Catherine asked, "Captain, a word?"
He took the chair vacated by Louisa. "Yes, Mrs Wentworth?"
Catherine took his hand. "I am glad to see that you have worked everything to your advantage."
He smiled. "You make me sound a dab hand at palace intrigue."
"Oh, another time, another place, perhaps so. What I mean is that I am glad you are learning that all things work together for good. I think the two of you will benefit from one another's company."
"I shall not act the dunce for you, Catherine. She is not vital to anything, but I do wish her with me."
She patted his hand. "There. Confession is good for the soul. I knew it all along." She smiled again. "Take care of her, and send her back to us as soon as you are able. I miss her all ready."
He touched her hand to his lips. "I promise. And take care of him for me." He stood. "And them." He watched his niece and nephew; limbs flapping and whipping the air.
A smile, and a wave, and the parting was over.
The parting from his brother was not so straight forward.
"... and she should, most certainly, be back to you by Christmas."
"And where will you be by Christmas?" Edward asked.
"I hope to be beating round Cape Horn. It will be summer then." He laughed. "Well, as much of summer as it can be called down there."
"You promise that you'll not take her with you? It is far too dangerous."
"After what she has been through? The Horn is nothing in comparison." Frederick smiled. "That said, I have no intentions of taking her. There is more than enough evil in my taking her to Madeira. I would not wish to fight the Westerlies and worry about her safety." He shifted from one foot to the other as he watched his brother potter at his desk. "Saying farewell is becoming more difficult."
Edward looked up. "Isn't it. My age works against me, and my nature. Each time we part, who knows -- "
Both men heard voices in the hall. Abernathy and Junkins had kindly slipped away when he had entered, allowing them some privacy.
The Rector glanced and sighed. "That will be Louisa. Graham was giving her a basket for the trip." He rose. Turning to his brother, he said, "I am very proud of you. Know that. And come home in one piece." He allowed no answer, but wlked quickly out to the hallway.
Junkins held a large covered basket. Abernathy was speaking quietly to Louisa as she dabbed at her eyes. Frederick was touched, but chose not to allow the sentiment to overtake everyone. He pulled down her pelisse from the rack and held it for her. "My dear." She slid her arms in. Edward helped him with his greatcoat.
As they walked to the carriage, Junkins said to the Captain, "I wish you the best, sir. Return to Shropshire as soon as you may."
Junkins struggled with a thin coat of mud on the path. Frederick took the basket. "Thank you, Joshua, I will. And I shall bring you a memento of the Horn."
"That," he said quietly, "will not be nec -- unwelcome. I look forward to hearing your tales."
They came to the carriage and Frederick passed the basket to Louisa. He looked at his friend. Joshua nodded. The Captain offered his hand and Joshua took it as best he could.
"The pleasure has been all mine." The hand trembled.
"The pleasure, sir, has been mutual." He smiled and stepped back.
Abernathy saw Louisa seated and brought enough commotion to the scene to relieve the heaviness.
When everything was seen to and there was nothing left to do or say, Frederick shook his brother's hand.
"It is indeed harder each time," said Frederick. "My age and my nature work against me. Take care, Brother. Pray for our safe returns."
"Everyday, Frederick." He leant in the carriage. "Good bye, Sister." Between dabs of the handkerchief, she nodded and waved.
As he watched the carriage take the corner heading towards Glencoe, he wondered, according to his nature, if this was the last time he would see his brother. There was the familiar ache, but as he turned in to the house, he thought about his other children and there was a joy which began to surround the pain.
"It is for this evening, my dear," William Elliot announced, as he entered the door of his chambers. He crossed the room, and paused beside Penelope Clay's chair to plant a kiss on her upturned cheek. "I have just come from Camden Place. Gad, my cousins are such idiots!"
A shadow crossed Penelope's face. "Did, did they say anything about ... me?" she inquired reluctantly.
"Indeed, your name was mentioned," he teased, as he shrugged off his frock coat. "But, do not fret. Elizabeth imagines that at this moment, you are your bed with the cold. For all her airs, she is the most complete simpleton!"
"Surely, it was a ruse," Penelope objected. "Elizabeth meant to throw you off your guard. She can be quite crafty."
"No, no. She is merely stupid," he smiled. "When you come to know me better, you will realise that I do not err in these matters. Elizabeth loathes the sickroom. By the time she discovers you are not in the house, we shall be far away."
A blush of admiration crept onto Penelope's cheeks. "William, you are so daring and brave!" she breathed. "You walk boldly into the lair of the lion, without the least bit of fear! I could never do so!"
William's eyes glittered. "But you forget, dearest, as an Elliot, I am a lion, so to speak. And I know Sir Walter. He may huff about and roar, but where I am concerned, he has neither claws nor teeth. He is unable to touch me."
"I wish I had your confidence," she said softly. "I dread the gossip."
"As do I," he said smoothly, moving to stand behind her chair. "But, until June, I am bound by the laws of propriety." His fingers lightly caressed the nape of her neck. "That need not trouble us, eh?" he murmured into her ear. "Until I am out of mourning, we will simply be discreet. Which is why I called upon my cousins today."
"To be sure, an odd way to show discretion," she said uncertainly.
"Actually, it was that idiot Benwick who gave me the idea," William admitted. His smile hardened. "Bold as brass was he, calling to inquire about Anne -- do you remember? And all the while he knew perfectly well where she was."
Penelope's face paled. "Benwick?" she faltered, and twisted round in the chair to face him. "William, does he, does he know about ... us?"
"Now, how would he manage that? He is even more stupid than Elizabeth," William murmured soothingly. "There is no need to fret, my dear. Your secret is safe. We depart shortly before dusk, and by tomorrow night, we will be in Town. And then, my love," he added, with a sly smile, "we do something about replacing this frock." His fingers tugged playfully at the shoulder of her evening gown.
Penelope raised her eyes; her cheeks dimpled. "We leave Bath by night to avoid detection, don't we?" She raised a hand to touch his chin. "Indeed, you are a clever man, William Elliot," she whispered tenderly.
"But of course," was his reply.
Before she took hold of the knocker, Elizabeth paused to study the shining brass nameplate beside the door. "Chauntecleer," she read aloud, with a sniff. She thought it a singularly foolish name for a house; had not Milton or Chaucer or some such person written about a chicken by that name?
A wry smile twisted her lips. On second thought, she decided, it is a perfectly wonderful name for Benwick's wretched house. After all, it was hardly fair that Anne should marry a common sailor, yet have a respectable residence.
Her eyes were drawn next to two large stone containers that flanked the door. In each bloomed long-stemmed tulips of the most heavenly shade of pink. Elizabeth bit her lip and looked away. Her cloddish gardener at Kellynch had never produced such exquisite blooms! She took a deep breath and rapped firmly on the door.
Presently it was opened, and Elizabeth found herself facing a solemn, neatly dressed Chinaman. She lifted her chin, held out her card, and requested an interview with Captain Benwick. The old man's brows lifted; he gave her a penetrating look before inspecting the card.
"Miss Elizza-bet Elly-ot," he read softly, with painstaking precision. Once again, his dark eyes examined her face. "Will you be pleased to step this way, Miss Elly-ot?" he said quietly.
He led her through the entry hall and into the drawing room, where she was instructed to wait. "I shall inquire whether the Captain is available," he said.
Elizabeth watched him go with a frown. She did not recall seeing this servant on her previous visit; where had Benwick had found such an odd little man? Was he a former crewmember? He does not have the look of a sailor, precisely, she observed, but then, one can never tell. His skin is certainly brown enough.
Left to herself, Elizabeth wandered about the room, wincing at the jumble of foreign objects that cluttered it. At length she paused before a set of tall windows and peered out. There was little to see. It had been growing steadily colder outdoors; the garden was now shrouded in mist.
Elizabeth turned away from the windows and began to rehearse her speech for Benwick. It needed rehearsing, for the list of items to be retrieved from Kellynch had expanded to cover any number of things, many of them Elizabeth's own. But he shall not care about that, for he is 'in love,' she reminded herself swiftly. His devotion to Anne will compel him to act, and I shall be the beneficiary.
Soon she heard the staccato of approaching footsteps, and the door was thrown open.
"Miss Elliot! What in heaven's name --!" James Benwick came into the room abruptly, his face clouded with grave concern. "Have you news of Anne?" he demanded, without preamble. "Is something wrong?"
Elizabeth blinked in surprise. "Wrong? Whatever can you mean?" she replied, with an attempt at a smile. "Why should anything be wrong?"
He ignored this. "What has happened?" he said, as he came nearer. "Do not spare my feelings, Miss Elliot. Tell me plainly."
"What a suspicious creature you are! I merely came to call and --"
"You came alone," he pointed out. "Why?"
"I am not precisely a schoolgirl, Captain Benwick," she said loftily. "I do not require a duenna!
"Nevertheless, you were willing to risk being thought a spinster," he countered, looking Elizabeth directly in the eyes.
"Good Gracious!" she sputtered, as her temper flared. Obviously, Anne had been telling tales, repeating her kindly meant, sisterly advice! "If you must know," she said stiffly, "Mrs Clay is confined to her bedchamber with a shocking cold! And as mine is an errand is of some importance, I came without her."
She was about to say more, but then recalled the nature of her errand and paused to compose herself. "I have come to request a favour of you, Captain Benwick," she said sweetly.
One of Benwick's eyebrows lifted. "Indeed?" he said warily. "What sort of favour?"
"Upon my word!" Elizabeth exclaimed, annoyed. She lowered her lashes, and added, "You are not very gallant, sir."
"Forgive me, Miss Elliot, for my execrable lack of manners," he said grimly, and made the tiniest of bows. "How may I serve you, Ma'am?"
"But this will never do, Paddy," gasped Sir Cameron. "Do you mean to remain in Bath for the entire spring?"
"Yes, unfortunately." The Admiral lowered his glass with a grimace. The two were concluding an amiable luncheon at McGillvary's club. "Business, Cam, business," he muttered regretfully. "The trustees at the bank have made an unbelievable tangle of things. The only way to get it straightened out is to oversee the work myself.
Sir Cameron studied his friend. "You sound like a d-mned tradesman minding his shop," he grumbled.
McGillvary leaned back in his chair and examined the contents of his glass, before directing a wry look at his friend. "Tell me. Do you entrust Malvern entirely to the care of your steward? Do you never peer over his shoulder? Nor check his ledgers?"
"Of course I do! But an ancestral estate is different."
"Is it? Not to my mind. I watch over Madderly, Kinclaven as carefully as any of my other properties. I intend to leave the family coffers brimming when my watch is up."
"Your brother will appreciate your generosity, I'm sure," Sir Cameron said acidly.
McGillvary set his glass down with a snap. "I was referring to the fortune Cleora will inherit! Roanan," he added wrathfully, "may go to h--, eh, a-hem!"
Sir Cameron made a face. "Don't tidy your speech on my account!"
McGillvary grinned sheepishly. "One must make an attempt, from time to time. I'm off to Richmond next week; I must practise."
"Richmond?" Sir Cameron frowned. "You don't attend Lady Kindersley's curst house party!
"Certainly, I do."
"Well, if that don't beat all!" he marvelled. "How'd she manage to bullock you into it?"
"Actually, Cam, I volunteered."
"You wish to go?"
"As I had a hand in arranging this year's guest list, yes. Her ladyship owed me a favour."
"What does that signify?" Sir Cameron complained. "She and My Lord Dull-Dog will fill the place to bursting with jubilarian gossipmongers, if I know anything about it!"
"Very likely," chuckled McGillvary. "But that's part of the charm, my dear. After all, one never knows whom one may meet in the crush at Kindersley's."
Meanwhile, at Chauntecleer, things were not proceeding precisely as Elizabeth had planned. Captain Benwick was most understanding about the silver, but instead of offering to drive to Kellynch, he excused himself from the room. He returned some minutes later, and led her through a labyrinth of passages to a large butler's pantry below stairs. Elizabeth looked about in surprise. There was a great quantity of china and glassware stored on the shelves. In addition, two women were carrying in items shrouded with cloth. When the cloths were removed, she realised that Captain Benwick was showing her his collection of silver.
"My great aunt was somewhat of a political hostess in her time," he explained gravely, "though overseas, as much of my great uncle's career was spent there. She dearly loved to entertain -- oh, yes, do show Miss Elliot the silver tableware, Yee."
The old butler came forward to place several chests upon the table. With great care he opened and presented them to her for inspection.
"Which style of silver utensil do you require, Miss Elly-ot?" the man asked quietly, as he began to lay out a place setting with meticulous precision. For his display, he chose a plate from one of the shelves: a heartbreakingly lovely French pattern of rosebuds and leaves.
Elizabeth was unable to help herself; her fingers itched to examine the plate. On the reverse she knew she would see the word Limoges. However, she dared not be so forward, so she stood and watched. In the meantime, a staggering amount of hollowware was piling up on the table: platters, compotes, bread trays, bowls of every shape and size, teapots, coffee urns, domed servers, cake stands ...
Elizabeth took a deep breath. "Captain Benwick," she said carefully, with her prettiest smile, "you are very kind to offer these things for our use, but --"
She hesitated, for the wary look had instantly returned to Captain Benwick's face.
"Quid nunc," he muttered, under his breath.
"I beg your pardon?" Elizabeth chirped. He did not answer, so she moistened her lips and plunged ahead with her request. "I believe you have misunderstood me, sir," she said sweetly. "The silver pieces I require are specific items from our family collection, which are precious to Anne. A particular coffee urn of my mother's, for instance, would be especially meaningful if it was to grace the table at your Wedding Tea."
Captain Benwick remained silent, studying Elizabeth's face. "Do I have this right?" he said at last. "You wish me to hire a coach and drive fifty miles to Kellynch to retrieve one silver coffee pot? When there are three or four here you may use?"
"There are other items I require, Captain Benwick," Elizabeth added hastily.
"Suppose I bring back the wrong pieces?"
"You will never do so, of course," she replied crisply. "Harkness will help you; he knows perfectly well which are Mother's." Elizabeth paused. "And so does Anne," she added dramatically.
"Anne?" Benwick exclaimed, in an altered tone. His frown vanished. "I'd not thought of that," he said softly, and the corners of his mouth began to lift. "Certainly, Anne will know which to choose."
Elizabeth bit her lip and struggled to repress a smile of triumph. She had won.
Much later that same afternoon, Jonathan Yee struggled to maintain his erect posture as yet another rut in the road nearly sent him flying. He was trundling along in an ancient, hired coach, the companion to his master on an unexpected trip into the country. At present, the vehicle was headed toward the London Road, which was altogether wrong. But trouble with one of the horses had necessitated a change; if the driver was to be believed, the nearest coaching yard was not far from the crossroads.
Yee sighed and tucked the lap robe more securely around his knees. The fog portended an unhappy change in the weather, and though the Captain was impatient to be underway, Yee felt this late start was most unwise. The two must spend the night at a roadside inn, and he could only guess at the privation and discomfort in store.
It was not precisely clear why the Captain had chosen him as companion. He had muttered something about meeting 'a martinet of his profession,' which left room for much uncomfortable conjecture. From snatches of conversation he had overheard, Yee assumed he would be dealing with either a formidable butler or housekeeper at Miss Elliot's father's estate. Thus, the journey's end did not look to be any more enjoyable than the trip itself!
Yee stole a look at his master. The Captain had borne up nobly under the wheedling of Miss Elliot, but for all his politeness, Yee supposed he was still greatly annoyed with her. He was now staring out of the window, silent and unsmiling; the book on his lap remained untouched. Yee stifled a yawn. It looked to be a dull trip.
A sudden check in the vehicle's pace caught Captain Benwick's attention; he leaned forward to peer out. "Some sort of barouche is blocking the road," he remarked. "Broken axle, from the look of it. Not damaged too badly, but --"
Yee saw Benwick stiffen. "What the devil?!" he heard him mutter.
Captain Benwick kept his eyes fixed on the scene outside, as the horses slowed to a walk. "Yee, come and have a look at this," he ordered quietly. "Is there some sort of crest on the door of that vehicle?"
Gingerly, Yee edged his way alongside Benwick. "It seems so, Captain," he agreed, "but which it is I cannot tell. I see a lady standing beside the road --"
"So do I," murmured Benwick. "And unless I am greatly mistaken, I know who she is: Mrs Clay. A woman who is supposed to be ill and in her bed." He wiped the window with his sleeve. "What can she be doing on this stretch of road? And in his carriage?"
"I think I see a gentleman with her, sir," Yee observed.
Benwick did not answer right away. "Yes," he said softly. "How very convenient." He reached up, pulled the check string to stop the coach, and began to unbutton his heavy overcoat. When he began to remove his frock coat as well, Yee became alarmed.
"Captain, what is wrong?" he demanded.
"Nothing is wrong," Benwick replied calmly, as he handed the man his coat. "A score is about to be settled, that is all."
"A score? What score? Who are these people?"
"One appears to be a lady in distress, although I rather doubt it," Benwick growled, as he reached for the handle of the door. "And the other --"
"But, sir!" Yee objected. "Do you -- do you get out of the carriage, sir? Sir!"
Quid nunc is Latin for, "What now?"
The shadowy interior of the coach could not conceal Yee's rigid disapproval. "You have blood on your shirt, Captain," he said, as the vehicle began to move forward.
"I imagine do," Benwick replied, settling into the seat. A wry smile played about his lips as he inspected the front of his waistcoat. "The nose bleeds rather freely when it is broken, I have found," he said, as reached for his coat. "I daresay this will come clean."
"I am not concerned with stains, Captain," said Yee, offering assistance, "but about that unfortunate gentlem -- take care, sir! You've injured your hand!" he said, as Benwick's fist emerged from the sleeve of his coat.
"I suppose I have," Benwick said, examining his knuckles for the first time. He shrugged. "It makes no difference. If the bruise is ugly, I'll wear gloves."
Yee could not keep silent. "Who was that man, Captain?" he demanded.
Benwick's face hardened. "He is Anne's curst cousin, William Elliot." He cast a final, fleeting look out the window, then turned away, satisfied. Mr Elliot was still sitting at the side of the road, with Penelope Clay hovering over him.
Yee helped him with his heavy overcoat. "But why in God's name did you hit him like that?"
Captain Benwick sighed. "Why, indeed," he muttered, as he wound a handkerchief firmly around his knuckles. "In truth, it was a fool's errand." He studied his fist for a moment. "One cannot teach a lesson to a worthless man like that," he said. "My temper got the better of me, I'm afraid."
"I should say, sir."
"Nevertheless," Benwick continued, "I believe I brought my point home. And what's more," he added grimly, "Elliot will remember today's work whenever sees himself in a mirror." His lips twitched. "Perhaps I should have aimed for his jaw, instead. Then he'd be unable to eat, in addition to looking hideous."
Yee opened his mouth, then closed it. "Captain," he said at length, "far be it from me to criticise anything you do, but I never thought to see you engaged in -- in pugilism on the highway! Lesson or not, I swear the man never expected that blow!"
"Nor did my Anne expect the blow she was dealt when he forced himself upon her!" Benwick countered swiftly. "Which information you will kindly expunge from your memory, Jonathan," he added, with a speaking look.
Yee was abashed. "Certainly, Captain," he murmured.
As the carriage gained speed, Benwick sat back and lapsed into studying the passing scenery. The afternoon was rapidly passing into evening. At length he said, "I won't mention this incident to Anne when I see her tomorrow. And if she does come to hear of it, there are any number of explanations we might offer."
"Of course, sir."
Benwick turned from the window with a wry smile. "I mean," he said, warming to the subject, "what was Elliot about, to leave his carriage sprawled dangerously across the road like that?" He cocked an eye at his butler. "He ought to have been more careful, for there are drivers with savage bad manners! Such fellows don't take obstructions in stride."
"Indeed, sir," Yee agreed. "One would be surprised at the number of pugnacious persons which frequent the open highway."
"And, if he persists in such behaviour," continued Benwick cheerfully, "he may find himself in serious straits. I daresay Mr Elliot might just become another hapless victim of ..." he paused to smile broadly, " ... Road Rage."
Their first day's travel had been uneventful and after a peaceful night at the ---- Inn they had early gotten out of town and on the road. They began the journey talking amiably about the weather, the condition of the road and some of their more interesting breakfast companions. Talk had dwindled and both satisfied themselves with watching the countryside jostle by as the held hands.
"What are you thinking?" Louisa asked after a long period of silence. "Might I wager a guess?"
He smiled. "You think you know me so well? Go on then, guess."
She cocked her head and rolled her eyes. "I would say you are looking forward to being back on the lovely Laconia and back at your duties."
He touched her chin then glanced out the window. "You are a little right. I was thinking about being back at my duties, but I was thinking in the opposite direction of the Laconia."
He looked back. "I was thinking that duty in Portsmouth might have had a certain attraction. I do enjoy seeing the young gentlemen learn and sailing out every month or so might have been enough." He turned full to face her. "And the idea of a home of our own, the privacy of it, not having the feet of hundreds of sailors over our heads has a certain appeal."
She touched his face then leant in and rested herself against his chest. "We shall have a home of our own one day. I promise you. And I will learn all your favorite dishes and have them made with great regularity. You shall have a comfortable chair just like Papa. We will have a garden to stroll in the evenings."
"And what will you have out of this bargain?"
She straightened and smiled at him. "I shall have you as my husband. That will be enough."
He pulled her to him. Her zeal was wonderful. It would be cruel for him to point out that no matter how enthusiastically one entered an endeavour, it became commonplace all too soon and that caring for a husband would be no exception. Besides that, he did not think himself intriguing enough to hold her so enraptured for the rest of her days. "A lovely thought, dear. I shall hold
you to this promise as well as the other."
"Other? Oh yes. To keep you strong and vital all your days."
"You shall. Keeping up with you will do it."
"We are very close to Uppercross. Only four more miles by that fingerpost. It is new just since our marriage."
"Change is the only constant I have found." He took her hand, "Now, remember, nothing about why we are bound for Madeira."
"I know. The element of surprise will be with us."
"Surprise? They know of our coming. I sent them a letter first thing after telling you about Madeira. I am sure the post has outstripped us."
She coloured. "Well, you did write them a letter, and then depended upon me to post it. I did not."
"Why ever not?"
"I thought to use a tactic that my brother, Richard, found most successful."
Anything connected with Dick he could not like, he knew it.
"I observed that when Richard was younger, whenever he had some indiscretion to tell Mother, he would bring something wiggling or creeping or slimy with him."
Frederick could see the end of this and thought it perfectly in keeping with the thick-headed Dick Musgrove.
"Before he would tell her of his bad business, he would accidentally lose the creature in the room somewhere. Mother would fly into a panic and beg him to capture it. While he was searching with great energy, he would confess to Mother all his crimes. With all the halloo, by the time the creature was secured, Mother was so grateful to be rescued that she forgave him everything and he went
off quite absolved."
Frederick laughed. So typical of Musgrove. It was a trick the lout had tried on him but had not profited by. Not long into the cruise, Musgrove had been caught sleeping in one of the little boats. When he had been brought before
the Captain with the charges, he had claimed that while inspecting the boat; certainly not sleeping in it; he had found a tremendous, and possibly deadly leak. Expecting that Wentworth would applaud his powers of observation and
ignore the charge of dereliction, he had gotten a nasty shock when his captain had ordered him on duty for thirty-six hours and if found sleeping at any time, would be flogged the exact number of hours which remained unfulfilled. Midshipman Richard Musgrove had managed to stay awake the entirety of the punishment.
"So you see, if we drop in, like a bolt out of the blue, Mama and Papa will be so astonished they will have no time to think of penetrating questions. They will be so diverted, seeing to refreshments and our comfort, that we will be an hour away before they suspect that we have told them very little.
He examined the bright open look of his wife. While he saw nothing of her brother's devious nature, he did see some of the pirate that tinged his own. If she proved to be as skillful with her parents as her plan indicated, he would remember this conversation for future consideration. "I bow to your scheme, Mrs Wentworth. It seems a great one. And about your cheek." He reached up and touch it.
The sticking plaster was gone and in many ways the wound itself looked more ghastly than when she first arrived home. There was little pain. It was now a sickly yellow, but both could take comfort that it was fading. She had quipped that morning that it was being most cooperative as the shade nearly matched the flowers on her bonnet. He hardly noticed the injury. It was rare that his eyes
even strayed in its direction.
She sighed. "I was riding in the gig harnessed to that brute, Standish. It does not seem fair to blame such a sweet little pony."
Frederick, who had nothing but derision for Edward's nag, said, "By the time I finish with him, Standish will be a decently dangerous stallion."
"It still seems wrong to lie about such a sweet animal."
He leant close. Taking a fold of her cloak he drew it over her face, leaving only her eyes exposed. "I hear that in some parts of the world women veil their beauty from the prying eyes of men not their husbands. Shall we say we have
taken up the custom?"
She pulled it down and looked thoughtful. "There are some who might think it an excellent notion. Considering the scar I shall bear."
Of all she had endured, it was the injury to her face that troubled her most. He reached up and gently touched the whole of the bruised area and the now healed-over wound. Taking her chin in his fingers he kissed her cheek and whispered, "The scar is nothing. I only like the idea of having your loveliness all to myself."
She rested her head against his. "You will not allow me to feel the least bit sorry for myself, will you?"
He ignored her question, said, "We are going to count on your strategy working and that they will ask no further questions." He lowered his voice, "That scar serves to remind us that we are more fortunate than we deserve. If a
scar is the worst of it, I think we did very well." Knowing monstrousness of which Randwick was capable made him more grateful every day.
She nodded. "True enough." She held his hand and they watched the familiar territory lead them to the Mansion.
"I must say," Lady Russell remarked, as she drew on her gloves, "the weather this afternoon is much better than I expected. I do hope you will have your walk about the estate, Anne. After all, we must leave for Bath in a day or two."
"It is not important," Anne replied. "Charles has had many demands upon his time. As it is, I have been able to see bits of the park from the windows upstairs. Please, give my regards to Mrs Folger and her daughter."
"Certainly not," Lady Russell said, as she made a slight adjustment to her hat. "Is not your presence here to be kept secret?" She took a final look into the mirror and sighed in annoyance. "As it is, I am to have those sailors as my guard; I trust they will keep themselves well-hidden as we drive into the village. I can only imagine the gossip if I am seen to employ such coarse, uncouth men!
"Hmmm, that depends," Anne objected smilingly. "If Grace Folger is yet unmarried, I think her mother would jump at the chance to invite the Lieutenant to tea."
"Gracious! What a dreadful thought!"
"Ah, but bachelors are few and far between," Anne pointed out, as Lady Russell opened the door. "Miss Folger might like Mr Gale very well, if given the chance."
Lady Russell made no reply, but her expression showed exactly what she thought of such an idea.
After the parlour door closed, Anne retraced her steps to the sofa and took up her book. "Well, she might," she repeated, as she sank onto the cushions. A dimple appeared, and soon Anne was smiling at the book. "After all," she said to its pages, "men of the navy can be very ... agreeable."
At length Anne closed the book. What she had told Lady Russell was true; she no longer cared to walk through the groves at Kellynch. On the other hand, a stroll along a certain path in the hedgerow near Uppercross -- that would be very welcome!
But it would not be at all the same without James, she reminded herself, with a rueful smile. Indeed, her talkative brother-in-law would be a very poor substitute! But a new chapter was opening in her life and Anne had a sudden longing to see the place where it had all begun. It could do no harm to ask Charles to take me there, could it? she wondered wistfully.
Mrs Wentworth proved herself to be a tactical genius. Her rouse worked beautifully. The couple was welcomed at Uppercross as honoured guests; the finest tea service was brought out and Cook had out done herself with tempting
morsels to feed the visitors. The only shade on the sunny visit was Mrs Musgrove's scolding her daughter for neglecting to write home. Louisa bore it well, apologising profusely.
With local gossip being the mainstay of the conversation, it was not difficult for the couple to stay to their plan. Her bruised cheek was noticed and the explanation accepted readily. No one noticed she did not remove her gloves and so there was no need to say anything about her hands. The events of Plymouth did not, in any way, intrude upon the little world of Uppercross.
The visit had been relaxing and enjoyable. As the couple were preparing to leave, a clattering in the hallway announced the arrival of another member of a latecomer.
"Gracious, here you are. And I was not sent for." Mary burst into the room, here cheeks redder that normal and quite out of breath.
"I sent a note down as soon as they came up the drive, but neither you nor Charles were about the Cottage," Mrs Musgrove said. "Or so that new girl of yours told."
"Well." was all that Mary had to say. She bustled in and hugged Louisa and dropped a curtsey to the Captain. As she helped herself to the gracious remains on the tea trays, she turned and said, "Well, Charles is never much home lately. There seems to be a fascination with Kellynch Lodge suddenly. There is always one of our men up there or Charles himself." She took a drink and bit into a small cake as she inelegantly took a chair. "These are delicious. Why does Cook not make these more often.?"
Captain Wentworth made a point of loudly checking his watch. "I am afraid that we must be going. We wish to be in Plymouth well before dark. Sir," he said, offering his hand to his father-in-law, "it has been a pleasure to again
be at Uppercross. Mother Musgrove -- "
"Oh, oh," exclaimed Mary, through cake crumbs and a last swallow of tea. "I have news of some of our friends."
As she was now the centre of attention, she took care to straighten her lace and smooth her cuffs as she came to stand before the Wentworths.
Louisa glanced at her husband and noted his impatience. She took Mary's hands and said, "Please, tell us quickly, Mary. Who are the friends and what is the news? Good news, I hope."
Mary sighed. "Well, it would generally be thought to be good news when a sister marries, but when the alliance is not as brilliant as yours -- " she smiled at the Captain as she spoke.
"Get on with it, Mary. Tell them who is to be married." Since being made privy to Mary's precious secret, Mrs Musgrove had been treated to a daily recitation on the lack of merits of mysterious coupling. She had little taste
left for the topic.
Mary folded her hands and said, "It is my sister, Anne. She is to be married, but I am sure you never guess her groom."
Louisa looked at her husband. His jaw was set and he had paled. "No, of course we will never guess, Mary," she stammered, "that is why you must tell us right away." She reached out and felt for his hand, but it held his hat. She took his sleeve instead.
"She has chosen to accept a proposal from Captain Benwick. I am sure that he is a decent sort of man, he will certainly benefit from this alliance much more than she. My father is enduring as best -- "
"Pardon me, Mrs Musgrove, but I feel I must speak," the Captain interrupted. He took his hat in the other hand and took his wife's arm. "I have the privilege and the honour of calling James Benwick a brother officer and an especially good friend. There is nothing for the Baronet to blush for on his account. I know him to be a good and loyal man. He will, no doubt, make an even more good and loyal husband." He turned away from Mrs Charles and again thanked his in-laws for their hospitality.
Louisa hugged a sputtering Mary and her mother and father. She hurried to catch up with her husband who had gone straight to the carriage and now waited by the door to help her in.
At least we were happy for a little while, she thought as he took her hand.
The little crowd followed them out. "Now you take care, Louisa. Mind that scrape and use the unguent," her mother called. "Write as often as you can."
Yes, Mama," she said, waving. Her father leant in the window and said in a low voice, "The two of you take care, you hear me? I have lost one of my children to the sea. I'll not give her two more."
The Captain assured him, that as far as it was in his power, both would return whole and healthy. Louisa kissed her father's cheek. The carriage jarred to a start. She sat and looked at the little jar of unguent her mother had
pressed into her hand as she had bid her good bye. The voices faded. The sound of the harnesses and hooves was all that was heard.
Kicking a rock and watching it bounce over the lip of the road, Charles Musgrove hoped that he had not roused the suspicion of his parents by absenting himself from their house for the past three days. He had barely been home to the Cottage and Mary was sulky as he would not tell her the reason for his inattention. There was no remedy for his wife's mood, but it was his hope that taking a meal with his parents this afternoon would free him to do his duty until Captain Benwick's arrival.
Charles shifted the Hawthorne, double-barrelled, onto his other shoulder. It was his favourite shotgun and the most sensible weapon to use while guarding the Lodge.
Guarding the Lodge presented its own quandary. A goodly part of Charles Musgrove was eager to prove himself against the enemy. He imagined how things would be should the nefarious Mr Elliot to try and breech the security of the
place. He easily envisioned his little band of men flying into action against what would no doubt be highly paid and highly skilled ruffians hired by the wicked blackguard. Many exciting scenarios played out in his mind and in all of them, the horde was successfully beat back by his fellows, with him in the lead.
Charles sighed. As rousing as these thoughts were, should anything remotely resembling them occur, it would mean that Anne was in danger. No, heroics were for books and stage-plays. It was best that he bless the quiet which, so far, had marked his watch.
As he considered what his mother might serve him for dinner, he watched a hired carriage pull out of the drive to the Mansion.
"Blast. I forgot Louisa and the Captain," he cried. "Wait," he called. "Loua." The carriage stopped and he began to trot towards it. "Ho, travellers." he said, drawing close.
"Charles, I thought we had missed you. Mary said that you have been at the Lodge a great deal." Louisa leant out the window and bussed his cheek.
"Uh, yeah," he drawled. Mary's been prating, he thought. He had not thought to prepare any ready excuses. "Uh, Lady Russell has a, um, she thinks there's has been a wolf about the place and a couple of the fellas and I have been beatin' the brush to keep it at bay." Not bad, Charles, he congratulated himself.
The Captain was suspicious. He thought that, even if there were wolves in Somerset, there was not a one courageous enough to present itself to the Lady Russell. He said nothing.
"Mary also told us about Miss Anne and the Captain."
"Yes," said Charles, "It is quite the exciting thing, I must say. I am happy to be a part of it."
"A part of it? You will be in the wedding party?" she asked.
"Oh, yeah. Benwick is counting on me to ... " He thought better of continuing.
Frederick said, "Please, tell James, for me, that I wish him -- and Miss Elliot, nothing but happiness."
"Well," Charles, drawled, "I suppose you could tell 'em yourself ... " He weighed his duty to the bride and groom and his desire to impress his brother-in-law. What could a short visit to the Lodge hurt? The Captain and his
sister would be leaving the area immediately, there would be no danger of them blabbing Anne's whereabouts. It would be downright rude of him to deprive the newlyweds the opportunity to wish the future Mrs Benwick joy.
At that moment, however, Anne was feeling anything but joyful. Her smiling, buoyant spirits had fled away and in their place had come a wearing lowness. Nothing about the afternoon pleased her: every few minutes she was out of her seat to check the window, or take a turn about the parlour, or to change her book for another.
I am nearly as bad as Mary, Anne decided, as she paced about. It was an uncomfortable thought. Her poor sister longed for company, yet once a visitor arrived, Mary often did little else than fret and complain -- and make the caller wish she'd never come! Anne felt very certain that given the opportunity, she would likely do the same today. Perhaps it is just as well that I am alone, she thought.
Presently there was some little commotion outside. Anne glanced out the window and sniffed. A very old coach had pulled up before the house. It was not a vehicle she had seen before, but by the friendly ring in the voices of her guards, Anne knew there was no cause for alarm. Most likely it is only Charles, she sighed, bringing more men. She wandered away from the window, found a chair, and applied herself to the book once more. It was a particularly loathsome book, but then, so were all the others in Lady Russell's collection, today.
At length she heard the door to the Lodge open, which meant that Charles had come inside. Anne did not bother to look up. She knew he would visit the kitchen first, as was his habit. Indeed, her brother-in-law was so enthusiastic in his compliments that Lady Russell's cook now prepared special treats for him.
Anne pursed her lips. She had no particular wish to see Charles any more, as her desire to visit Uppercross had worn away with the day. It was a three mile walk to the Great House; why should she endure that, and risk discovery by her sister, just to see a broken down bench in the hedgerow?
A soft knock sounded at the door of the parlor, but Anne took no notice. The hinges creaked slightly as it opened a crack.
"Anne?" a voice whispered.
"Come in, Charles," Anne said absently; her eyes remained fixed to the pages of the book. "Have you been to see Cook? You may like to go there first. I believe she has something special for you."
"Uh, Cook?" the voice said. "No. But if you think I should, Annie, then ..."
Anne looked up at that -- and gasped. She jumped to her feet, leaving the chair to fall backward onto Lady Russell's polished floor, as she rushed to throw herself into the arms of her caller.
"Into your hands I am placing the one I love best in all the world ... guard her well, sir." Nothing about visitors, well-wishing or anything else. I'm
to guard her well. " ... if you was not on your way. Such a shame. I think it'll be the weddin' of the year." He caught himself. "Exceptin' yours o' course."
Frederick wondered at his brother-in-law and the rambling discourse. But not too long, they had to be on their way. He stuck out his hand to Charles. "Brother, take care. Convey our blessings to the groom and his bride."
As the carriage rolled away, Louisa waved to her brother. Tuning forward, she took her seat. They were quiet for some time. Finally, hesitantly, she asked her husband, "Do you think they shall be happy? The Captain and Miss Anne I mean?" She could only glance at him in profile, both looked straight ahead.
Will they be happy? he mused. Absently, he fingered the chain to his watch. He heard a clicking sound coming from his pocket. Not wishing the watch face scratched, he pulled it out to close the lid. With the watch, Louisa's wedding ring popped out. It rolled over his knee and bounced on the floor. He smiled and leant to capture it. "Ah, there you are."
"What is that?"
He sat up and reached for her hand. "In all the hubbub, fool that I am, I forgot to return this to its rightful place."
"My ring," she cried. "Where on earth?'
He removed the glove from her left hand. "I will tell you later. As for the betrothed couple," he said, sliding the ring onto her finger, "I think if there are any two people who can find happiness and more than deserve it, it is them." He pulled her close. "But they shall have to work double tides to be nearly as happy as I intend for us."
All had gone perfectly that evening as the Laconia weighed anchor and caught the tide. She was several hours out and Captain Wentworth was satisfied with her trim, the performance of the crew, and the weather. He had remained on deck, silently basking for nearly an hour. He savoured the tang of the fresh air, unpolluted by the smells of the daily life of Plymouth. His soul would forever take joy when he was back on the sea, but he was a mortal man, and after it all, was feeling the weight of the day. He turned over the watch to Lieutenant Dorman and went below.
"From Mrs Wentworth, sir." Michaelson said as he traded the Captain's scraper for a note.
He opened it and read:
Please, dear husband, come to visit me, no matter what the time
The note was tantalizingly mysterious. Could be any number of things, I suppose. Gad, I hope she has not suddenly taken ill, he thought. He loved his wife but felt that he had done more than his share of nursing duties over the course of their short marriage.
"This should not take long," he said to his steward as he passed by.
The door closed behind his captain and Michaelson finished laying out Wentworth's nightshirt. As he brushed the hat, mindful of the lace, he murmured, "I'll not hold my breath waitin' for ya, sir." Between Miss Jensen's tone when the note had been delivered, and Mrs Wentworth's later request, he held out little hope of seeing his bed any time soon.
Frederick crossed the common area to Louisa's door and saw that lights still burned. He knocked softly, aware that the last days had been strenuous and she might not be awake. A soft, "Enter, Captain," met his ear.
Louisa stood in the center of the tiny chamber, opened her arms and said, "Good evening, sir." She was beautiful. Her satin wrapper shimmered in the candle-glow. Her hair, tied with a matching ribbon, sweetly rested on her shoulder. The room warmed noticeably the longer he looked.
She came to him and smiled, then hugged him. He returned her embrace and said, "Is everything all right? You ate so little at dinner, I feared you had taken ill."
"I was too excited, meeting your friends and all." He smiled at her notion that the officers under his command were his friends.. "And we were leaving in just a few hours. I did not know what to expect."
"And were you disappointed?"
She stood away and took his hands. "Oh no. It was wonderful. The man with the fiddle, and the men chanting at the ... " She faltered for the word.
"Capstan. The men climbing up the ropes and lowering -- "
"Setting -- "
"Setting the sails," she corrected. "And when the wind ... what did you say the wind did?
"Filled the sails."
"Filled them. There we were, stock still, then ... " she paused, " ... we sprang away, just like a horse at the start of a race. It was magnificent."
Her eyes were bright with the memory. In her, he saw a kindred heart. He saw a female version of himself.
She continued, "It was a beautiful dance, all the partners knew their places. I thought it would be more ... chaotic, less orderly. I thought there would be more to it."
"Then you were disappointed."
Oh no. Not at all. Papa always says that the more skilled one is the easier they make a difficult task look. You are very skilled, I think." She bit her lip. "I will always be safe with you," she said and threw her arms about him. She proclaimed to his neckcloth, "I am so proud of my ingenious, talented ... my brilliant husband."
At first blush, her proclamation was too warm, too overgenerous and exaggerated his true skill. The Captain, very accustomed to empty flattery, thought to down-play her fervor. "Such praise will swell my head ... " But he knew this was no empty praise on her part. She trusted him without exception. His aching throat and stinging eyes made it impossible to continue with his self-deprecation. Her little pronouncement touched a place in him, long ago and deeply wounded. Her balm was cool and healing as it seeped into the cracks of that dry and private place.
She felt small in his arms, adding to his protective sense. "Thank you," he whispered into her hair. Nothing more was said for a little while.
After a time, she raised her head, took a swipe at her eyes and asked, "Well, how do you like my room?"
He had noticed very little when he had entered the cabin, or during their exchange. That was now rectified. When they had arrived the day before she had eagerly anticipated seeing her new home. In the hurly-burly of refitting, the condition of the second sleeping cabin had been ignore. There were no fit furnishings for the sleeping berth; only a broken down chest and partially unravelled hammock. She had make-shifted with Miss Jensen for the night. First thing that morning, Mr Martin had been dispatched to escort Mrs Wentworth and Miss Jensen on a hasty trip into Plymouth to buy the appropriate furniture. When the party had returned, the Captain had been otherwise employed with Harville, though had noticed when the purchases; large and numerous; had been hoisted on deck and carried down the companionway.
"And, how do you like it?" she asked again.
The furniture itself was in good taste; classic lines and unoffending. The overriding issue was not the style, nor the quality, but the overwhelming amount of it. Every available inch seemed to be filled with the bed, double wardrobe, a small writing desk, a bench at the bed's foot, a little table here and a flowerstand there. An upholstered chair and companion table completed the picture. He noticed that a new carpet graced the floor. From the few open patches he discerned it to be a deep blue. The room was so stuffed, he was hard pressed to make out any pattern.
His senses rebelled at the overthrow of order and neatness. This room was the antipodes of his own spartan quarters. "I am," he said, "astonished that you have made so much change in such a short period of time." It was the truth, but only in the most common understanding of the words.
"I am glad you like it. I intend this to be our own little haven of peace." She grasped his hand, unashamedly kissed it and pulled him further into the melee. "Miss Jensen offered the opinion that there might be too many pieces and that the room was over-full. But now I will be pleased to tell her you quite approve and commend my choices. Come and be comfortable." The more exacting part of Captain Wentworth cried out to correct her misimpression, while the loving husband chose to walk a better, quieter path.
She indicated that he should take the chair. As he was about to sit, she stopped him. "You have finished upstairs for the night, have you not?"
He smirked at her blunder and would correct it. "On a King's ship, we do not refer to it as 'upstairs' if you please. The proper term is: 'on deck.' And yes, I have done for the night."
She coloured. "Ah, 'on deck'. I shall endeavour to remember. Turn." She made a circle with her hand.
He did so. "What are you about?" She began to remove his coat. He was concerned as it was his best. He had entertained his senior officers at dinner and formally introduced them to his wife. He had not taken time to change after the festivities. It seemed fitting for him to be rigged in his finest when they weighed anchor and began their journey.
"I am making you comfortable. My, but this is very heavy," she said, as she took it away from him.
He turned and watched closely as she saw it hung on the back of the chair to the writing table. He was relieved that she took a great deal of care. "You must be mindful of the lace. If it breaks, it is very costly to replace." Looking more closely about the room, he added softly, "And lack of funds might keep you from decorating more extensively."
She returned to him and saw him seated. "You needn't worry. I have everything just the way I like it and do not expect that I shall need to do much more."
"Ah, very wise. A few excellent pieces are all one needs." He tightened his lips to stifle the smile.
She had the look of a cat at the cream. Without a word, she turned and reached over the chair for something on the desk. He could not help but admire the drape of her satin wrapper. She turned back. "I spoke with Michaelson." She held up a tray with a decanter and glasses. "He said it is a favourite of yours." The liqueur looked to be sherry. "I thought it would be nice to drink a private toast to our first adventure together." She placed the salver on the companion table and poured them each a tot. "I do have one problem," she said, handing him his glass, "I was only able to fit in one chair."
Considering the abundance of furniture, he wondered that she had managed such a miracle, but said, "I shall take the desk chair." As he began to stand, she stopped him.
"No." She touched his shoulder to keep him seated. Doing so, her drink splashed a bit onto his shirt. "You must have this chair. It is the most comfortable."
It was easy to see that she wished him to remain as he was.
"I shall just take my ease here," she said and sat in his lap.
So, this is your game, my girl, he thought. He took her glass and set it on the table along with his own. Putting his arms about her, he shifted her to a more comfortable spot. "While I do not mind this arrangement, don't you think that visitors might find it a bit inconvenient?" Her arms went about his neck and she rested herself against him.
"This is our haven, remember?" she said, "I do not intend to entertain anyone besides you. And as long as you do not mind ... " Her voice faded into a kiss.
Since he had left her in Shropshire, Frederick had endured more than his share of marital frustration. The joy of having her returned was great but took precedence for only so long. Having her near enough to embrace, but being denied intimacy for the sake of her ribs, had been a sore trial indeed. Anticipating his return to the sea had relieved the frustration somewhat, but now that the ship was underway, and she had literally thrown herself into the seat of the issue, he was more than a bit discomfited.
"Uh, I think, my dear, that ... " He began to rise. He was in no mood endure another sleepless night. Without a word, Louisa took his hand and moved it from its chaste resting place on her knee, and brought it gently, but decidedly, to her side. He quieted as he felt her up and down. "Your bindings ... "
"I had them removed."
He endeavoured to not smile like a jackass. "So, Hemmings has declared you fit and ready for duty?"
She too held back a idiotic grin. "You might say that. I am prepared to fulfill my wifely duties." She kissed his cheek chastely.
"Ahem, I did not mean that. I was merely ... "
"I know what you meant," she said, touching his lips with a finger. "I declared my self well. The Doctor said that I would be the best one to know when my ribs were all healed."
"And are they?" He was not blind to the fact that her enthusiasm might cause her to be injudicious. "No pain at all?"
She held up her fingers, "Just the tiniest bit tender, but not so much that I would regard it." She kissed him warmly. "I have no wish for us to be distracted by anything."
He looked in her eyes and there was no slyness. "Ah, I see." He nodded and pulled her close for a kiss.
"Come," she said, standing, offering him a hand.
"You know, I am in mortal danger here," he said as he joined her.
She smiled. "However could that be?" She faced him and stood teasingly close. "You think me plotting you harm, sir?"
He released her hand. "No," he said, as he deftly untied her wrapper. "Not so much to my physical being." He followed the folds of her nightdress and pulled her close. "But my high-minded opinions about woman being allowed to live aboard ships." He kissed her. He drew a breath and whispered, "It is in a fair way to be scuttled by one, small wife ... "
The victory was hers to claim.
Michaelson had been correct about waiting for the Captain to return. He had been formally dismissed at two bells. Before crawling into his hammock he had left word with the Marine outside the captain's door to call him the moment the gentleman stirred. The man got a decent four hours sleep. At five, the Marine relayed the message that the Captain had been up, taken a turn on the deck, left instructions with the Officer of the Watch and had gone back to his quarters. At seven, Michaelson was to deliver a hearty breakfast -- for two -- to the Captain's dining room. It was to be placed on the table and left on its tray. Then he was to leave.
After seeing the tray placed and the door to the Captain's quarters securely locked, he said to the serving boy, "I am fair certain we have the rest of the mornin' to ourselves."
Solveig Jensen surveyed the deck where her young mistress sat reading to the little boys aboard ship. It was not lost on her that several of the Midshipmen, or young gentlemen as the Captain called them, and even older ordinary sailors, had crept close to hear as well. The men were free from normal duties for it was Sunday. Since they had departed Plymouth on Friday, Miss Jensen had been impressed by the faithfulness to routine exercised on a King's ship. But as on land, the faithful order of the past several days was set aside for the Sabbath rest.
Many of the men brought their needlework or carving while others combed and plaited one another's hair. Though the crew had stood Divisions directly after Church and before dinner, any sailor worth his salt would never neglect an opportunity to titivate his appearance.
She noticed Mrs Wentworth was silent, scowling at the book. She glanced at the text. "Lugubrious," Miss Jensen said under her breath. For one raised with so many advantages, her mistress's reading was not what it should be. Solveig had been apprised of the injury to her head, but still thought that lack of application was more to blame and encouraged the girl to exercise her mind whenever possible.
Looking about, she saw that no one seemed to mind, or even notice the bobble. She turned and looked towards the quarterdeck. Her cousin, Timothy, stood straight and tall next to the captain. Seeing all the officers in their best dress uniforms, she understood precisely why her little cousin, Elsa, was so giddy over a man as plain as Harville. If she were less disciplined, she herself could find several reasons to sigh with admiration.
Knotting off her needle and choosing another piece to sew, her mind drifted back to the morning. Church had been "rigged" as Captain Wentworth called it. Though she thought it ridiculous to dignify what they done with the name "Church."
There had been a hymn, but no sermon as the Laconia carried no clergyman. She had hopes that, in time, Cousin Elias would make his true calling known. He too hoped for this, but had made it clear that he would not press any advantage offered by Timothy's station. He would wait on God to present His opportunity.
She had been disappointed that, rather than appeal to the eternal spirit of his men, Captain Wentworth had appealed to their naval spirit by reading the Articles of War. As it was explained to her, reading them aloud to the assembled crew was required once a month. She had listened and determined that at the first possible opportunity she would find Elias and have him preach her a proper, Norwegian Baptist sermon.
"Ahem." Solveig cleared her throat quietly. Mrs Wentworth had finished her story. The men spoke quietly among themselves, though none dispersed. Likely, they had hopes she would read more. Mrs Wentworth showed no signs of comprehension as she was engaged in mooning over the Captain. Miss Jensen leant over and tapped the book gently. Mrs Wentworth roused and began to search the pages for another story.
Casting on her needle, Solveig was thankful that her mistress was so pliant. From the beginning of the voyage, Mrs Wentworth had been inclined to accepted Solveig's corrections with a willing spirit. "You must be mindful, Madam. When he is at his station, you cannot look at him with the eyes of a wife. He is the captain of the ship and due respect, not romantic adoration." When the young woman had protested, Solvieg had duly explained a truth told her by many married women of her acquaintance. "When the adoring looks are confined to the privacy of the bedchamber, they produce much more abundant and much sweeter fruit than when applied aimlessly." Mrs Wentworth had blushed when she had fully realised the meaning, but thought the reasoning sound. Now all that was left was to discipline her actions.
"I think that Miss Jensen will do my wife much good." Wentworth said to Harville as they stood the quarterdeck. He took joy in the fine, straight bow wake cutting through the bright blue of the sea. "She is a woman of sense and taste." He harboured a little hope that, over the course of the next several months, Solveig Jensen might work her magic on his wife's domestic senses. Louisa had shown particular concerned when he had barked his shin on one of her little tables. Perhaps if he continued to injure himself, and Miss Jensen continued to refine his wife's sensibilities, there was hope.
Harville looked over to the canvas awning which had been erected for Mrs Wentworth. "My wife's cousin is a credit to the family. I must say, she takes marvelous care of the children when ... " He faltered. "I did not mean to imply that your wife is a child ... "
Wentworth glanced and smiled. "No such meaning taken. Louisa has a good frame, my in-laws chose only to hang a few pictures and paint a little rather than build a solid structure. Miss Jensen will see to many things, I think."
"Aye," Harville replied, "That she will. But make no mistake, she was beside herself when she was asked to accompany your wife. This is quite an adventure for any spinster."
Wentworth turned and paced towards the larboard. "I intend to do everything in my power to make this as exciting a cruise as one could wish for, Timothy. Ladies included."
At that moment, a shadow from above passed over them. Shading his eyes, Harville said, "I am amazed at Mr Batts. For a man of such bulk, he is quite the acrobat."
"He has talents," Frederick said, his eyes following Mr Batts's, "you can not even imagine." The mute's progress across horses of the topgallant was sure and quick. "The man has a definite feel for the yards."
Harville agreed and continued his previous tack. "I am surprised, sir. You are taking the ladies presence very well, considering your personal opinions." He watched his friend closely.
He glance Harville's way. His First knew him very well indeed. On previous occasions, when the topic was even touched upon, Wentworth was aware of his fractiousness and how it could border on apoplexy. And, how when given a platform, he would be the first to uncompromisingly state his beliefs followed by example after example to prove his point. But since he had arrived, other than explaining to Harville the legal necessity of his wife's passage, he had said nothing. No pointed remarks when either of the ladies blundered concerning ship's protocol, no sweeping generalities about evil of the female presence. And as none of the ladies had proven vulnerable to sea-sickness, even feminine delicacy had been spared his rough treatment. His First had observed all this and was goading him to account for the change of attitude.
"As I have told you, Harville, this is not a decision I was at liberty to make. My wife is a victim of a crime and for justice to be done she must identify the perpetrator -- Daniel Randwick. The complaint is sworn and the agents of it aboard. I have nothing to do with it. Mr Congrieve!" he shouted without hesitation.
Two of the younger boys were pelting towards the stern, and, he assumed, his now resident story-teller. The boys had carefully avoided Wentworth's sacred starboard side of the quarterdeck, but one, a stout, red-faced fellow, had a hand in the pocket of his trousers. Though a minor offense, it was one which Wentworth could not abide.
"Aye, sir." the boy stammered.
"This is not the first time you have been reminded of this, Mr Congrieve," Wentworth said, his face stone-like and unyielding. He continued, "Because of this breach, as the administrator of your twelve pound allowance, I am now a guinea richer. If this happens a third time, Mr Congrieve, the punishment will be more severe than you can imagine."
The boys shivered under the Captain's imperious look. Mr Congrieve glanced from Wentworth to Captain Harville, a man known to have heart. There was no help from that quarter. The first's face was a mirror of Wentworth's as he stared towards the bowsprit.
The sturdy shoulders squared. An "aye aye, sir" as hearty as any rightfully chastised ten-year-old could muster was stuttered out.
The squeakers tore off, no doubt thankful for their escape.
"It is a shame that that sort of discipline rarely works when one is at home."
Wentworth scowled. "And why not?"
Harville held back a smile, "I suppose it has to do with the fact that I would break my own purse if I were to exact tribute for punishment. But, back to our previous conversation" said Harville, his look turned serious. Wentworth worried that he would press for more detail than the Captain was prepared to give. "You said that you had met this Randwick character face-to-face, not once but several times."
As well as Harville knew Wentworth, the Captain knew his First. Harville was as loyal a friend as one could wish, except when he observed a personal frailty ripe for plunder. The mutinous look in Timothy's eye warned him that his hypocrisy was perfectly aligned in Harville's sights.
"Why should your wife be put to such dreadful inconvenience, considering her health, when you could just as easily identify the h*ll-hound."
As Timothy presented the obvious facts, it was impossible for Frederick to miss the unabashed gleam which brightened his countenance. Only an admission that he had engineered his wife's being called to witness and therefore her accompanying him to Madeira would satisfy Harville. This hound had the scent and was closing in fast.
"While it is true that I am able to identify the man, there is another ... " He stopped mid-sentence as Harville straightened and others on the quarterdeck began to murmur.
"There is indeed another difficulty with that." Wentworth turned and was glad to see he had been saved by Montague Batts. He had not noticed the time. Since they had weighed anchor, Doctor Hemmings brought a sea-sickened Batts above deck every two hours to take the air.
"I hope you do not think me rude, Captain, but I could not help overhearing your conversation. The sea air carries sound beautifully. Anywise, Captain Wentworth is quite right that there is more to this case than merely Daniel Randwick. There is the matter of of a woman named Rosamond Coucher. She is as evil and calculating as Randwick, more so perhaps, and the Captain has no knowledge of her. So you see Captain Harville, Mrs Wentworth is the only person, man or woman, who can be used as a thorough and reliable witness." Batts looked from Harville to Wentworth. The slightest of nods passed between them.
"Thank you, Mr Batts. Might we walk?" Wentworth turned and slowly paced towards the starboard of the quarterdeck. He took satisfaction in stifling Harville's over-active interest. Batts walked slowly, eventually coming even with the long-legged man.
They stood watching the spoondrift churn and spread out from the bow wave. Wentworth noticed Batts take out a handkerchief and dab at his forehead. Poor man, the motion is making his head swim. He turned and faced away from the waves.
Swallowing hard, Batts said, "Have you spoken with your wife? Asked her the questions I gave you?" He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Oh, to be on the family pond in Essex," he murmured.
Wentworth pitied the man as much as was possible for a inveterate salt. "Yes I have. You understand it is painful for her to speak about it. She has expressed a great fear of having to see him again, face-to-face. She -- and I -- would prefer to forget the entire incident."
He looked at the Captain. "I understand. And I assure you, Captain, when the fiend is taken, I will require her to identify him personally. But I can assure you that he will be under the tightest guard -- the room will be so stuffed we will be lucky to wedge her in -- she will need only look at him, nod a yea or nay, and then you may take her away. She will never be alone with him."
"By G*d, not."
Please understand that anything you can do to bring this to a resolution will work in your favor. When Randwick, and with good luck, Miss Coucher swing, this will be over, once and for all."
"True. From what she told me, on the face of it, it would seem that Randwick was somewhat involved in the Levant murder. It was Randwick who delivered Louisa the message from Levant stating the time and place she was to meet him."
Batts fought his physical state to consider the case. "So, Randwick knew that your wife was coming to the Hall. Perhaps that is what dictated the time of their departure. And it would explain having a note ready for Amber Glenn. Do you think it out of the realm of reason that he engineered Levant's sham 'assignation' with your wife?"
Wentworth glanced at Batts. "Very Likely. Louisa would not do such a thing on her own. I have not, and do not intend to tell her Levant's expectations. His death was shock enough."
"Of course. I understand completely." He coughed. "Please excuse me, Captain, I am feeling the sea again." Clamping the handkerchief to his mouth, Batts walked quickly towards the companionway. Hemmings nodded to Harville and followed in the small man's wake.
The Captain rejoined his First, still feeling heady from Batts rescue. He eyed the the growing crowd at the stern. "This is what comes," he intoned to Harville, "of the female influence aboard a King's ship."
Harville glanced about and acknowledged the continuing migration towards the stern.
"Grown men acting no better than little boys," Wentworth muttered.
Harville bit back a smile when the Captain continued to mutter about bibs, nursery fenders and cups of milk. "According to my wife, men are nothing more than little boys in grown bodies," he offered.
"Mmm," he snorted, "I believe that your good wife is a prophetess, and the proof is on my poop deck!"
They fell silent, but Harville was not content to leave things so.
"Did you ever think, sir, when you came to visit us in Lyme, that we would so soon be back to the sea, aboard the Laconia, or that we would be shipping two women -- and one of them would be your very own wife?"
Frederick arched a brow and turned to look at his First. "I could never have imagined such a thing. But might I remind you, Captain, that these circumstances were cruelly forced upon us. It is only in the interest of justice that Mrs Wentworth sails with us -- and it would be inappropriate for her to sail without a woman. This is certainly not because I approve, in principle or even in particular, of this circumstance."
Just then, the bell marking the hour was struck, the glass was turned and Harville gave the order for the log to be heaved.
After seeing to his duty, Harville turned back to find the captain looking towards the stern. A smile touched his lips. "No sir," Harville said loudly, "No one could ever mistake that! It is obvious that this is a cruel, an extraordinarily sore trial for the both of you."
Wentworth glanced at Timothy. "Aye, a cruel trial indeed." He lowered his voice, "As for Louisa being my wife, I must own that I am greatly indebted to Providence."
"Aye, sir," was all that was said. He nodded his compliments to the Captain and made his way to the helm to have a word with the Master.
Stepping off his beloved quarterdeck and making his way to the stern, Frederick Wentworth could not help but feel pride in the smooth working of his crew and ship. And as the Laconia continued south to Madeira, he felt his luck and anticipated every adventure that lay beyond.
This ends Volume 5 and thus ends Love Suffers Long and Is Kind
Authors' Note: We would like to thank the readers of Love Suffers Long. Your faithfulness and patience have made this a labor of love.
We would also like to thank Pemberley and the Bits of Ivory archivist, Carolyn, and our Derbyshire Writers' Guild archivist, Jimmy for enduring through this monster.
Laura Louise will continue the story of Anne Elliot and James Benwick and all the denizens of Bath in the next book, Mercy's Embrace.
Again, thank you for reading.
SusanK and Laura Louise
************© 2001 Copyright held by author