Love Suffers Long and Is Kind, Volume II
As he sat watching the flames of the fire through the golden brown of the brandy, he thought how coming to know a woman was quite an education. When he had met Anne all those years ago, she had been quiet and shy. Her youthful beauty had been first thing to catch his eye and that had caused him to take great pains to draw her out. What he found after doing so, had been a sweet and lovely young woman. Her quietness had belied a native intelligence that lay underneath. With the quick mind also came a quick but gentle sense of humour. None of these things had been evident by the outward appearing. But, neither were they great surprises. With Louisa, things were a bit more complicated.
As it had been with Anne, there was more to Louisa than he had seen at first. The last two evenings, in particular, had proven that she had patience, a good deal of patience and that she was not slow to follow when he chose a more humorous or circuitous route to a point.
But while he was beginning to do his new wife justice in her character, he was still quite certain that he could never attach himself as deeply to her as he had Anne. Not only were they nearly physical opposites, but worlds apart in personality as well. It had been impossible not to see the striking differences between the two at Lyme. Louisa had been headstrong and willful to the point of injury, while Anne proved to be calm and clear thinking in a crisis. The difference in them was profound. He was persuaded that all he desired in a wife was met in Anne Elliot, not Louisa Musgrove.
In most ways, the differences were still far-reaching, but as with Anne, Frederick was finding that there were things about Louisa that he had neglected notice, things that were taking him by surprise, things about her that he grudgingly found sweet.
Not only was he seeing things in her character that were charming, but he could not help but think that perhaps the fall had done some good work. Perhaps spending time away from Uppercross and in the society of the Harvilles--and Benwick--had done her good.
Thinking back, he saw marked changes in her behaviour. The most conspicuous being a less strident inclination to be at the center of his attention than she had shown in the autumn. He remembered during all the social gatherings at Uppercross, as was her due as his fiancee and then wife, she had taken his arm when they were together, but those times when he had been drawn into conversations more appropriate to gentlemen, she had readily left him to it. In Lyme, he had had no private conversations with his friends, as she had kept with him unceasingly.
During the short engagement there had been no need for flirtations on her part, but she had also not been excessively frivolous or silly. In the past, he had met the young fiancees of fellow officers and their behaviour had, at times, been awfully embarrassing. An engagement to a man of even a little rank seemed to bring out either a pride totally disproportionate to the level the fellow had attained, or a giddy kind of nervousness that was more than just a little harassing.
Taking a drink, Frederick thought how Louisa had not seemed to be either of those.
Even the day's carriage ride had been pleasant. She had not talked overly much. The occasional comment on the weather, a particularly jolting stretch of road or the odd cottage now and then; much to his surprise, she had taken out a book and begun to read. The conversation between Arabella and Mr. Musgrove had come to his mind, but when Louisa had asked him how to pronounce, "Seychelles" and inquiring as to whether he would be sailing there on this voyage, he could see that he had obviously misinterpreted what they had been talking about. It was perfectly clear that Louisa could read.
"It is pronounced, 'Say-shells,' not 'Sea-shellees,' though some do call them the 'Shillies.' Why do you wish to know of the Seychelles Islands?" he had asked, curious to hear what she would say.
"You told Papa that you were going to the Indies and I found this book on the shelves when we went to dinner at Uppercross." As she spoke, she had given him the small, blue volume. "The Indies: Character and Politics of the Region" was the title. "But there is no map to show me where it is."
He had felt badly when he had been forced to tell her that he was sailing to the West Indies and not the East.
"Oh . . . you must think me quite stupid for not knowing the difference." She had turned to the window; she looked to be hiding her embarrassment.
"No, I don't think you stupid in the least. Reading this," he held up the book, "says you are merely ignorant and quite willing to change that. And as for the Seychelles, I have never been there. I have never been to the East Indies myself. But I could tell you of the Mediterranean, for I have sailed it extensively."
She brightened and then had listened raptly as he had told of one of his first voyages as a midshipman on a hydrographical cruise off the island of Minorca and how their soundings had aided in the rapid building up of the Port of Mahon. She had enjoyed hearing him talk about the various characters he had come upon in his journeys. He had just begun to talk about the summer of the year '07, when he had had such luck and made quite a lot of money, when he noticed that her head was resting on his shoulder. She had quietly fallen asleep.
Sipping the brandy, he chuckled to himself, She held out as long as she could, but Frederick, my boy, there are times you are a long-winded fellow.
While the morning part of the journey had gone smoothly, after baiting the horses in the early afternoon, the latter half had gone poorly and their evening at the Blushing Maiden Inn had come about quite by accident. Bad roads, a long detour, and darkness falling had forced them to stop. The hired driver, Mr.Trimble had assured the Captain that this particular inn would suit quite well, as he was somewhat acquainted with the proprietor and, had availed himself of the comforts of the establishment on previous trips through the area.
After Frederick had secured the last room, Trimble had fought heatedly with the ostler about prices for stall space, feed costs and assorted other charges. Determining that much of his own profit would be eaten away by such a large outlay, it was decided that he would take the rig to a nearby grove of trees, unhitch the horses, while he and his boy would sleep in the coach. When the plan was proposed to the Captain, he had agreed, even to the point of giving over a hamper of food provided by Mrs. Musgrove upon their departure and making the offer of a pistol, one of a brace he always carried.
The food had been gladly accepted, the pistol declined in favour of a dirk the boy carried and Trimble's whip. The driver was uncommonly proud of his abilities with a whip.
After seeing their night case unloaded and carried up, Frederick and Louisa had made their way to the dining room.
" . . . and so Mr. Trimble has apologized profusely, but because of the detour, unless we wish to go on another two hours in the dark, this is our home for the night." Pointing to the one empty table, Frederick guided Louisa through the other tables in the common room. "Trimble said that when he was up this way last year, the place was much better kept. He suspects that the proprietor has fallen on extremely hard times. He has heard that the fellow even had to send his one daughter out into service for extra money, so there is not even a ladies' maid anymore." Pulling the bench out so that she might sit, he continued, "Frightening how a thing can go down in the heel so quickly."
Other than a woman at the taps, Louisa was the only lady present in the dining room of the Blushing Maiden Inn. The place was on the dark side, and the clientele on the coarse side. The room itself showed its past good standard. The furnishings were not grand, but of good quality. The past year had been hard on them though, they had not received a good thorough cleaning for some time and the benches had a loose feel when sat upon.
But, the food had proven to be quite good and there was no stinting on it. When it had been brought and, as the Captain and his wife had begun with their soup, six or seven shabby men, looking to be itinerant laborers, came off the newly arrived mail-coach. Standing in the door, and finding no other tables free, the men had swarmed about the couple, finding seats on the empty benches. The boy serving had brought more plates and the men began to pass the serving dishes and bowls quickly, eating with little gentility but a great deal of energy. As the edge of their appetites was blunted, the men conversed among themselves in a foreign tongue; laughing and passing not only plates of food but pitchers of beer that were being constantly refilled.
When a bent, older gentleman had come late to the table, he nodded and pointed. A space appeared between two of the men and all the other, younger men fell silent. He had doddered a bit as he had seated himself across from Louisa. As he had taken a seat, he had removed his hat and smiled a wide, missing picket smile. He spoke to her in a language she did not know, and seemed to be introducing her and the Captain to the younger men who had seated themselves about the table.
The Captain gave a general nod to the table and particularly introduced himself and his wife to the old man. Louisa gave them all a nod and a shy smile, then, as politely as possible, moved herself a bit closer to her husband.
Aside from the men, her embarrassment was due again to ignorance. The fact was, when the Musgroves traveled, the family had always taken private dining rooms where there was someone to serve; Louisa had never taken a meal in the common room and this was not at all as she had expected things to be.
Frederick had felt that taking a private room, when the staff was so meager, would have been an invitation to neglect and they could very well have been left to languish much of the evening behind a closed door. He knew there would be enough of that later. No, he had thought, one meal in the public room would do them no harm. In this frame of mind, he had taken little notice of their privacy being breached. After a time, he looked over to her and noticed she had finished the soup, but was not eating her chops and potatoes.
"Are you feeling all right? Is there something else that you would prefer?" he asked, indicating her plate with his knife.
Smiling, she said hesitantly, "The soup was very good and I think I would prefer more of it rather than the other." She had not wished to be a bother, but she was uncomfortable with the company at the table and ignorant about how things were done.
"Certainly," he said, taking the bowl from before her. "Friend, be so kind as to fill this please," holding up the bowl, he called to the man sitting next to the soup pot. The fellow nodded and awaited the bowl to come to him. Filling it, he dropped in a piece of toasted bread with it, and the bowl and bread made their way back to the Captain. "Thank you, sir," he called again. The man nodded once more and went back to his meal. "There you go, soup and sippet, just as you requested," Frederick said as he placed the freshly filled bowl before her.
"I'm sorry to be such trouble to you, but . . . well, I have never eaten in a place like this. It is rather like at home, is it not? So many at table . . . but . . . they are strangers." she observed as she began to cut up the toast with her spoon.
"Yes . . . yes it is like home . . . aside from them being strangers. Will you pass me your plate, if you are not going to have it," he motioned with his fork.
"Oh, surely." She moved her abandoned plate to him and he placed it on his already empty one.
As he cut up his chops and took more butter for the potatoes, he felt pity for Louisa's obvious distress and said, "Shall I tell you the bit I think I know about our tablemates?" he asked, pointing to the bread.
Handing it to him, she nodded, "Please . . . do."
"Well, I say the fellows are Irish. By the older gentleman's introduction and snatches of their conversation, I have recognised some of what they have said to one another. A friend of mine taught me some Gaelic long ago. They most likely labour in steel works of Coalbrookdale, and along the Sevren . . . they look dirty but they're not really, just stained from the smoke of the furnaces. They are probably returning from the southern shipyards . . . couldn't find work and didn't want to risk the press."
She and the Captain talked on about the fellows and he pointed out how the common room of an inn was much like being aboard ship. " . . . even the number is about right. Eight to twelve in a mess . . . a table. They become your messmates. You do most everything with 'em. Eat, sleep, divisions . . . that's a complete inspection on Sundays, before Church. You learn to get on with them, even if you don't particularly care for one another." The Captain wiped his mouth and laid his napkin on the table, "Well, have you had enough? Shall I take you to the room?"
Louisa noticed that when Frederick had begun to speak to her this time, all the talk about them had ceased. The rest of the men at the table had been laughing and talking throughout the meal . . . until now. All were occupied with their food, but they were also very quiet.
Leaning close to him, Louisa whispered, "Yes, please."
"Why are we whispering?" he had asked.
"They seem to be listening. But I didn't think they could talk English."
Frederick looked up and it was as she had said, the fellows were studiously avoiding his look, but they were also listening to be sure. "Mmm . . . they may be like me, I can understand it, but not speak very well. You are right though, they are listening . . . and quite attentively I must say. I shall take you up then."
He rose and helped her round the bench while the fellows at the table smiled and waved and bid the couple a good evening. Glancing all around her, she blushed to find that all the men at the table were smiling and winking at one another.
How mortifying, they think . . . he . . .and I . . . would that it were so, she thought. Suddenly another thought came to her. She kept it to herself until they were in the empty hallway, leading to their room. How to say this . . . ! "A-hem . . . you know, I shall need your help."
The Captain had been thinking his own thoughts and had barely heard her, "Oh? My help? In what way?" His help? Simple enough . . . a trunk moved, fire stoked or some other chore.
"Well . . . I shall need your help getting . . . undressed," she said in a low tone.
He had not expected this and before thinking, said rather loudly, "Why would you need my help to do that?"
As he was saying this, an older couple was just leaving their room and looked pointedly at the two of them.
"You said they have no girl. I will need help with my dress . . . the buttons!" she exclaimed with a strangled whisper and a small gesture of her hand.
Frederick looked at her a moment, wondering how he might extricate himself from this. Realizing that there was no way but to help her, he said in a much lower tone, "Of course, I'm sorry. I never thought of such a thing . . . of course I'll help you. Come."
She leaned in again and whispered more, this time with more elaborate hand gestures. Frederick looked sharply at her, scowled, and felt the color coming to his face. After a moment of their staring at one another, he stammered "Y-yes . . .I . . .I think I can do that too, especially as it would appear that I have no choice!"
The Resplendent came highly recommended by Trimble and Frederick closely considered whether he should listen to another of the fellow's opinions, but it was the Captain's belief that every man deserved an opportunity for redemption, and so he had listened and the Resplendent was more than making amends.
He was also glad to be settled rather early in the evening as it had begun to snow on and off in the early afternoon. His mariner's sense of weather told him that it would be moving on well before morning and their departure, but he still did not wish to risk travelling through it more than necessary.
After their calamitous stay at the Blushing Maiden Inn, the next day's leg proved to be spectacularly, uneventful. The inn in which they had stayed was fully equipped with maids, linens and all the amenities that one would expect of a decent establishment. His decision in taking a room at this particular inn was a compliment to all Louisa's good cheer on Monday. Frederick wished he had the ability to conscript seamen as elastic in their response to unexpected hardships.
The room itself was excellently furnished and had more than enough creature comforts; sitting room with a small table for dining and separate bedchamber. Most specially, there was a private bathing room, which Louisa had delighted in taking full advantage of--thankfully there had been a maid to assist with her buttons and corset!
"Good year," Frederick murmured as he opened the bottle of Margaux left by the steward after clearing the table. Leaning back in the chair, he closed his eyes and enjoyed the feelings of being filled by a good meal, warmed by a high fire and as at peace with himself as he had been for days.
As he mused, Louisa entered the room and began to settle herself before the fire.
"What are you doing?" Frederick asked, wondering as he watched her lay out a towel on the hearth.
Pulling down another towel wrapped about her wet hair, she said, "Rather than closet myself in the bathing room to dry my hair, I thought I would do it out here . . . with you, and the towel is because the hearthrug wasn't swept. . . . I can find no broom."
She tried to appear indifferent as she said this, she did not wish the Captain to feel that she was thrusting her company upon him, but she did wish to be with him. Their conversations in the carriage were becoming quite easy and good-natured, she hoped they could grow into more. But with their arrival in Crown Hill on the morrow, that left only this one evening of his particular company. "If I do this now, I won't bother you will I?" Louisa stood fingering through her hair, looking refreshed and of good comfort in her brocade robe.
"No . . .no, I can't imagine that you drying your hair could trouble me. I'm glad that I stoked the fire so high . . . that you might make use of it. But let me sweep the rug for you." Standing and reaching around her, he took a small broom from a hook on the mantelpiece; smiling, he held it up and shook it a bit. Kneeling down, he handed her back the towel and gently swept the bark and splinters of wood into the fire-box. "There you are, swept and ready, Madam," he gestured. Straightening, he rehung the broom.
"Thank you, I did not see it," she said, wrinkling her nose. She batted her eyes teasingly and thanked him again for gallantry in sweeping the rug. Seating herself upon it, tucking her legs beneath herself and turning her back to the fire, she began to comb. "Thank you for tending the fire so closely, it is very nice to be warm and snug on such a cold night . . . I'm glad you were able to convince Trimble to take his son and stay in a room at the coaching inn rather than the barn with the horses . . . again. It is a pity that the man is so lacking in trust." Leaning her head to one side, she brought her hair over her shoulder and combed it through.
"Perhaps it is lack of trust, or he is just protecting his own interest. That coach and those six horses are most likely all he has to provide for his family. What a thief would steal merely becomes one man's ill-gotten gain; for Trimble, the loss could put his family in the poor-house."
Thinking on what he had said about Trimble, she nodded, "You are right, I've not lived much in the world and so don't tend to think about things like that. Of course he is willing to sacrifice so much for something I take quite for granted." Pondering their exchange for a time, she turned her attentions to the rest of her hair, and said, "And I must thank you again . . . this inn is lovely. Though, you must be careful, sir. I may become quite spoiled by your . . . indulgence."
"As I said earlier, you deserve it for being so gracious on Monday night. I have come to think that the Blushing Maiden blushes for shame at how far she has fallen," he said taking a drink.
"Well, she was . . . memorable," Louisa said as she tousled her hair before the fire.
Putting down the glass emphatically, Frederick chuckled, "Oh, come now! Our Irish 'messmates,' . . . no fire . . . no maid and to cap the night . . .no linens! Face it, girl . . . memorable though she was, she was also a chaotic mess! But I honour you for your good cheer and gracious touch in the face of such adversity. " He lifted his glass to her.
"Thank you, but this evening more that makes up for it, though . . . if you continue to spend so freely, I wonder that you shall keep any of your fortune!"
"You needn't worry on that score, I have had more than my fair share of scrapes with poverty and am determined enough to keep far from it again! You'll not go lacking . . . I promise."
"I was not worried so much for us, but one day . . ." She trailed off, leaving unsaid what she was thinking.
"A-hem, yes . . . I have made provision for my responsibilities," he said thoughtfully, his tone lightening as he continued, "Anywise, you deserve twice this luxury for having such good humour about it, others might not have been so . . . generous. I salute you, Madam!"
She raised her head and looked at him with a pleased smile. Their eyes met and for just a moment, there was something they both could feel, but neither could name. Louisa looked away nervously and he attended to his wine.
Offering to pour her a glass that she might join him, she declined, saying that she wished none. So he continued to drink his wine alone and in silence, unable to think of anything on which they might converse. There was nothing left to him but listening to the crackle of the fire and the quiet sounds of his wife drying her hair.
After a while, he found himself in the midst of personal wrangling. A deep, honey-colour, I believe, he thought with finality . As he watched her, he had tried to determine just what the color of her hair truly was. But then again. . . with only candlelight, it is very dark, though . . . in the bright sun, it is more golden . . . and yet . . . the fire shining through makes it a bit red. Odd color her hair. No matter, I shall stay to a deep honey-colour. At this, he drained the glass and poured himself a little more.
While he had meditated on her coloring, she had turned away to dry her frontmost hair. She could hear him behind her, pouring himself more wine, setting his glass down, his shifting in the chair. Knowing that he watched her, turning around to face him, Louisa said with a smile, "The water I left is not too filthy . . . if you would care to bathe. I think it is really too late to order more heated."
"Not too filthy, aye? Are you saying that I need to bathe? Has the trip left me so frowsy that you are offended?" he asked, feigning indignation.
"Oh no! . . . No! I am not saying any such thing!" Afraid that she had carelessly offended, Louisa scrambled to frame an apology when a thought came to her, "If you feel no need to bathe, then is your tone intended to make me know that I was in need?" She looked at him with wide eyes and pursed lips.
"Oh lord! I'm dished now! No, you were nowhere near the need as . . . say . . . Charles after a particularly lo-o-ong and unproductive hunt." He watched her over the rim of the wine glass. Now what will you toss in rebuttal, girl?
Just as he was lowering the glass, the towel hit him in the face and coming to rest upon his shoulder. Carefully setting down the wine glass, with as stern a face as he could muster, and with great precision, he folded the cloth and laid it gently on the table. Taking up the glass again, he took another drink.
After throwing the towel, Louisa had stopped combing her hair and sat holding her breath as she watched him. His actions were meticulous and his face impossible to read. She feared the ease she was beginning to feel with him had deceived her and that now her playfulness had over stepped its proper boundaries. "I . . . I . . . I'm sorry . . . I," she stuttered out as she rose to retrieve the towel.
He quickly saw that she was taking his severe front to heart. She was retreating, unlike she had done at Kellynch when he had been overly harsh about her leaving no word as to her going to Winthrop. As she reached for the folded cloth, he took hold of her hand. A smile crept to his lips, "No, Louisa, it is I who am sorry. You've not made me angry. I just wanted to tease with you a bit." He picked up the towel and handed it to her. "Though, I think I must remember not to tease you when there are sharp or heavy objects at hand. So . . . what shall we discuss now?"
Taking the towel and giving him an embarrassed smile, Louisa said, "For my part, I think all conversation should cease and I should attend to my hair . . . I seem to invite trouble otherwise." Turning quickly, she disappeared into the dressing room, returning soon with a brush. Standing before the fire, she took long strokes as she worked to look more adult after her childish behaviour. Putting that aside, she thought about other, more pleasant parts of the evening, the days' travelling and how there were only a few hours left until they arrived at their destination.
Frederick watched as she brushed out her hair. He was relieved that the look on her face betrayed thought, but nothing troubling, their last exchange had been taken as intended. As she brushed, the swaying caused her robe to open slightly and her nightdress peeped out now and then. He noticed it to be a pale pink, not the same white as the one she had worn the past nights.
When she finished, she lay the brush down on the mantelshelf and began dividing her hair for its nightly braid. His watching is most unsettling . . . he can still make my hands shake . . . oh how silly of me, I should be accustomed to his looks by now, she thought as she began for the second time on the braid.
On her third try, he could see that she was again dropping and missing sizable portions of hair. Standing, he walked over to her and picked up the brush, saying, "Come, allow me." Steering her to the credenza and a large branch of candles for light, he took out the little she had begun. "You missed quite a lot." Giving her hair another thorough brushing out, he divided it. As he accomplished this, he thought how wonderfully soft her hair felt; much different than any of his shipmate's all those years ago.
It took her a moment to fully realise what was happening: that he was touching her hair, he himself was brushing it, his hands were preparing it to braid. "I . . .I have never had a man dress my hair before . . . what do you know of braiding, may I ask?" She was discomposed by his actions and could think of nothing else to say.
"Well . . . quite a lot actually. Before coming to Kellynch in the fall, I had a six-year queue," he talked as he took his time braiding. " . . . a good foot past my shoulders. I never had it cut, you see. Being thrown ashore and seeing the styles had changed a bit . . . I determined to be fashionable for once. And as for knowing how to braid, well . . . on board ship each fellow has what is called a 'tiemate' . . . a friend who braids you for divisions and special occasions." He continued taking his own time braiding and keeping the strands ordered. " . . . and so some of my distinguishment in the King's Service was as a first class tiemate. But this was years ago, before I was in command and had a steward to do such things for me . . . it has been quite a long time since I had a tiemate of my own . . . or was anyone else's."
As he talked and slowly braided, Louisa purposefully picked through a dish of sweet-meats that had been placed on the credenza after the supper dishes had been taken up. She was not interested in eating any, it was more a ploy to keep her hands occupied as she tried to concentrate on his talk of tiemates and special occasions, for it was becoming more and more difficult not to take notice when his fingers would occasionally brush her neck; the tremours his touch aroused were lovely, but very distracting.
He bent closer to say jokingly, "Head up, tiemate!" She realised, try as she might, she had allowed herself to be lost in his touch and was not attending as she ought. Smiling, she savoured that he had called her his tiemate; perhaps he was beginning to think of her as a friend . . . even if he was distant from her in other ways.
"You certainly take your time . . . tiemate. I wish I could truly be that for you, but since you seem to have no need of me . . . I don't know what I am."
He said nothing. It was a sentiment for which he had no answer. Turning his thoughts elsewhere, he realised that from the time he had begun to braid her hair, he had been catching snatches of the same scent he had first smelled at the Blushing Maiden Inn. The sweet, spicy scent was Louisa. I knew it couldn't have been that place, he thought. Leaning close, he breathed it in, trying not to be obvious.
Louisa could feel him closer to her. She tried not to take notice, not wishing to raise her own expectations. But he was standing much closer than when they had begun.
"May . . . a-hem, may I have the tie?" he said, clearing his throat. His voice was a bit strangled; the scent was clouding his thoughts. As when he had helped her to undress, he could again feel the warmth of her, and as he braided her hair, he could not help but feel its softness as it fell against his wrists and his occasional touching her neck as his fingers worked the hair was not unpleasant.
"Oh . . . here." She began to hand him the few walnuts she held, she quickly realised her mistake. "Sorry, wrong hand. Here," she said, holding up the short length of pink ribbon to him.
He took the silky trim she held out and tied the braid off. He fingered it for a moment, it matched the little bit of night gown he had spied. Drawing himself back to the moment, he laid the plait over her shoulder for inspection. His hand lingered there as he said, "See, I know what I'm about when it comes to a braid. So, have I the position?"
Feeling the weight of his hand, the warmth of it and the anticipation it excited in her, she closed her eyes and thought, Oh, girl . . . don't make a fool of yourself. Bracing herself on the credenza, she cleared her throat and murmured, "And what position would that be, sir?"
Breathing deeply of her scent, he murmured in return, "Tiemate . . . your tiemate, Loua. 'Ave a little pity on a poor sailor . . . thrown ashore . . . without any employment?" The warmth of the room and the closeness of her worked on his senses as he tried to bring some order to himself, but all he could think to ask was, "What is that scent? I caught a whiff of it days ago and . . . and I just now realise it to be you." He had come so close that he was able to speak quite softly into her ear. His other hand had settled itself on her other shoulder.
He was warm against her back and so close to her face, she could feel his chin brush against her temple and his breath upon her cheek. Her eyes closed . . . he had called her the name only those closest to her used. Perhaps he was preparing them both, perhaps he was making ready to take her as his wife. Were that so, she could give herself fully to him, he wanted her.
Remembering that he had asked her something, she worked to give him an intelligible answer. "Um . . . it . . . it is elderbloom. Mama makes a lotion for me, for my hands and face . . . they dry so in winter . . . I suppose I have gotten it . . .mmm . . . gotten it on my clothes and . . . things." He had begun to lightly kiss her neck and behind her ear. Can this finally be happening? Oh please . . . please.
"Turn around." he said, hoarsely. She did as he told her and stood before him, waiting. Taking her in his arms, he began to kiss her jaw and moved to her cheek, finally coming to her mouth. He seemed uncertain at first, barely touching her lips to his, but finding her willing, he continued with surety. The kisses were gentle at first and as each gave more of themselves, their passion grew.
"What is this, here?" he breathed, his hand at her waist. Not losing an opportunity, he kissed her neck as he awaited an answer.
With difficulty, she put her mind to what he was talking about and suddenly realised what it was he meant. "It must be the robe sash . . . I'll undo it." In a rush, both reached for it, their hands colliding. Louisa drew hers back and allowed him to draw it open. He pushed aside the robe and slipped his hand underneath; she felt him place it gently on her back and pull her closer still.
Allowing himself to openly express more of his own desire, Frederick realised that she had followed his leading with some reserve, but now showed little fear of his passion nor would it seem, her own. He was astonished how trusting of him she was proving to be . . . so willing and open to him. The Captain knew he was losing himself in something he had thought he could not do, something he had told himself would be impossible.
From Part I: Allowing himself to openly express more of his own desire, Frederick realised that she had followed his leading with some reserve, but now showed little fear of his passion nor would it seem, her own. He was astonished how trusting of him she was proving to be . . . so willing and open to him. The Captain knew he was losing himself in something he had thought he could not do, something he had told himself would be impossible.
"What is that smell? What is that in your hand? " he whispered distractedly. With great reluctance, Frederick drew a little away from her.
Forgetting the sweets that she held, she had brought her hand to rest on his shoulder, evidently close enough for him to catch their scent. Trying to breath normally, Louisa blinked and said shakily, "Um . . . they are . . . are candied walnuts. They were on the sideboard . . . after supper." Not knowing what else to say, she stammered, "W-would you care for one?" She had opened her hand to show him the sweet and then took one in her other hand and offered it up to him.
"Would you care for one?" a sweet voice from long ago asked.
"No . . . I . . . I don't care for such things." Drawing her a little roughly back into his embrace, Frederick endeavoured to throw off the voice and the memory which accompanied it by single-mindedly applying himself to his wife's lips.
But the more he tried to elude the memory, the more compelling it became. More clearly came Anne's dark hair and eyes. As he kissed the lips and throat of his wife, he could clearly see and truly feel Anne. While Frederick's engagement with her had never approached these heights of physical intimacy, as he continued, the reality of Louisa and the memory of Anne joined to make a phantasm that he had no desire to deny.
"Oh . . . Anne, I have always lov . . . " The rest was lost in kissing a pair of willing lips. The illusion created by the scent of the walnuts, the warmth of the room and the softness of the body he held convinced him that were he to merely open his eyes, the hair in which he had buried his hands would be chestnut and the face he would see when he drew back, would lovingly gaze on him with warm brown eyes.
"W-what did . . . you . . . say . . . darling?" she whispered into his ear, thinking he had been addressing her. As she spoke, she bestowed gentle kisses.
Without thinking, without hesitation, he replied, "Ann-d . . . I have . . . I have always loved . . . your hair," he murmured vaguely.
Shocked by both utterances, he tried without success to continue, but passion had flown upon the mention of Anne. He had actually spoken her name! He had brought another woman into his bedchamber. More to the point, he had brought another woman into the consummation of his marriage. What he had done disgusted him, he had never felt himself so contemptible.
Reaching up , he took her arms from around his neck, and brought her hands down before her. She kept hold, but freed him as she realised he was pulling away. Stumbling from her and looking away with embarrassment, he said raggedly, "I am sorry, Louisa. I . . . I . . . cannot continue with this. I think I shall bathe. You may as well retire . . . I will be some time. Excuse me." He walked quickly into the dressing room and before closing the door, he said hoarsely, "I am truly sorry." He had not even looked at her.
Louisa leaned against the credenza, her knees shaking. Had all this truly happened or was she merely dreaming a horrible dream? But she realised it was real enough, the walnuts were beginning to melt a little and become sticky in her hand.
Standing before the mirror, Frederick watched with detachment as he buttoned his nightshirt. It was as if he watched another man, not himself. He had not allowed any thoughts on any thing while he had bathed, he had pushed the incident entirely away. It was all he could do, literally, to just keep his head above the tepid water, the urge to stay under and not come back up had been quite strong. "But an honourable man would do no such thing . . . would he, Captain?" he muttered at his reflection.
Turning from the mirror, he took the chair that sat before the dressing table. Leaning with his elbows on his knees, he rested his head in his hands and allowed the evening, memories and all to flood over him.
He thought of sitting companionably by the fire . . . first he and Louisa talking and then he braiding her hair . . . the scent of her and then his open desire of her touch. Suddenly, both in the present and from the past . . . "Would you care for one?" The words had been exactly the same, as had been the gesture: a small hand offering him a candied walnut.
The first occurance had been in Somersetshire. The occasion, an evening party at the estate of the Strafford family. It was a fine summer evening and most of the guests had no particular interest in staying to the card tables. Most were out walking the lighted paths and enjoying the twilight air.
The Captain, (just a commander then), had been invited specially by a friend of his brother. The friend, Henry Wyngate knew that a young man would care more for an evening of polite society than the company of his bookish, curate brother and had encouraged Frederick to accompany him to the Strafford's evening party. But this new acquaintance had decided coming ahead by a few pounds at whist was preferable to walking, and so had left Commander Wentworth to his own devices.
As he strolled and examined the greenery, he had been delighted by the sight of one Miss Anne Elliot. They had met a few times before and to the Commander's way of thinking, they were making great progress in getting to know one another better. He had secretly hoped to meet with her that evening, but was not certain that she would be in attendance. Not to worry, she had seen him and had bestowed a nod and a smile.
Leaving the greenery to itself, he had gone to the terrace where she stood and offered his arm that they might stroll. "There are many others out also, there will be dozens watching, so we'll not be too much alone," he had said when she hesitated. She had looked about the grounds and seen what he said was true. Having agreed, they had begun their walk together.
He had pointed out the various stars that were beginning to make their appearance, they had been properly animated when discussing that the weather's being neither too hot nor too cool for the crops and finally, both had heartily agreed that the Strafford family boasted a truly beautiful estate. As they had stood together, admiring an intricate boxwood topiary, Anne had opened her reticule and brought out a small napkin.
As she unfolded it, she smiled and said, "You will think me wicked, but I took these from the refreshment table." Holding the napkin open, with the help of the flambeaus lighting the paths he could just make out candies walnuts. "I adore them, but we never seem to have them at home, so . . . when others make them available, I . . . indulge a bit. Would you care for one?" She had picked one up and offered it to him.
He stood suddenly and took a deep breath. Giving himself over to the remembrance of that evening was as sweet as it was agonising. But he would not stop now, such indulgences had already ruined the night for he and Louisa, there was no reason to ruin this particular one for himself.
When Anne had offered him the sweetmeat, she had intended that he take it from her and place it in his own mouth, but he had been caught up in the evening and her and their growing liking for one another. Seeing no one nearby, he had taken her hand and guided the nut into his own mouth, taking it from her own fingers. She had given little . . . nay, any resistance. Before he had released her hand, he had tenderly kissed her fingertips.
He remembered the silky feel of her gloves and the caress of her fingers on his lips. She had reluctantly taken back her hand, and said shakily, "I think it best if we go inside, there is danger being out in the falling damps." The rest of the evening was lost to him; he remembered nothing of it as the only thing that mattered was what had passed between them at the boxwood.
Having closed his eyes to see every bit of the recollection, he now opened them and sighed heavily. He had not thought of that night for years and now that he had, now that it had been brought back to him by such a devilishly simple thing as a handful of sweets, he knew that his brother had been right about marrying one woman while loving another.
"I think you have not been able to unlove one woman in all these years, why would you suddenly be able to love another? And, I think Anne will always be a spectre to you...and be a part of most everything you do.
The words had been those of his brother and the opportunity had been New Year's Eve, exactly two months previous. Edward had tried to make him see that a marriage to Louisa was not only an act which would betray his feelings for Anne, but one which would eventually betray his wife as well.
. . . and I do mean everything. Having one woman in your mind while you are married to another is dangerous to your soul, Frederick."
When his brother had said the words, Frederick had known precisely their meaning, but at that moment he realised just how true they were, and if he were to allow it, just how easily this sort of adultery would overtake him.
As he stood, he realised he was staring at Louisa's shift hanging on a peg. It was very like the shift she had been wearing Monday night. Perhaps it was the same one, embroidered white flowers on light buff coloured material. The same excitement of feelings came over him that had begun that first night, their wedding night. He had pushed the truth from himself so skillfully that he could almost plead surprise at what had happened with Louisa earlier. But it was a lie, he knew he felt desire for her . . . for her physical body, but for her mind . . . for her heart . . . ?
As he continued to look at the shift, he thought, How simple it would be . . . merely to go to Louisa, take her to my bed, indulge myself with her body! It could be perfect! By simply closing my eyes, I could make her Anne. I could have them both! None would be the wiser . . . only I would ever know.
He was repulsed by the thought, by the duplicity of such an act. But what truly sickened him, was to look into his own soul and know he desired it more than anything else he could imagine.
Later, he awakened sitting in the chair, leaning against the clothes hanging on the pegs. He heard the clock striking one. Frederick had exhausted himself and knew it was more sleep that he needed. Standing and stretching his emotion knotted muscles, he went on to bed. Louisa would be sleeping by now so there would be no having to explain himself. There was no explanation he could give that would not hurt her further. There was nothing he could say in his own defence, he deserved no defence.
Entering the bedchamber, he looked to the fire, saw that it was low and put on more wood. He sat on his heels as it caught and after prodding things around to his liking, he turned to go to bed.
Though the fire had gone low, the room was still quite warm and so it was no wonder that Louisa had pushed the blankets to one side in her sleep. At first, he moved across the room to the bed, wanting to be certain that she was fully asleep . . . coming even closer, he stood looking down at her. The longer he looked, the more he was fascinated by the beauty of this young girl, of his own wife. The soft firelight gave her skin a rosy glow; her hair, which his own hands had braided, was beginning to come loose. So much for my ability to tie . . . he thought bemusedly, recalling his boasts made earlier that evening.
The pink gown she wore was nearly translucent . . . and he knew her form beneath it to be soft and yielding. The sight of her held his attention as strongly as the memory of Anne. "Oh Girl . . . " he breathed, unwilling to tear his eyes from her.
After a few moments, Frederick drew a shaking breath and turned away, pierced to his very soul by the overwhelming desire he again was feeling for his wife. His life would be much simpler were she a little repulsive, or simply plain! But then . . . he would never have flirted with her in the first place.
He walked quickly back to the bathing room, made his way over to the large ceramic washbasin on its stand, dumped the contents of the ewer into it ... and plunged his head into the cold water!
Frederick was not certain how long he had stood over the basin. The water had calmed considerably, but there was still the occasional drop falling from his face. Taking a towel from the bar on the stand, he buried his face and said aloud to himself, "Will it always be this way?"
From Part 2:Louisa leaned against the credenza, her knees shaking. Had all this truly happened or was she merely dreaming a horrible dream? But she realised it was real enough, the walnuts were beginning to melt a little and become sticky in her hand.
As she had stood by the credenza, staring at the closed the door to the dressing room, Louisa looked at her hand and the candied walnuts; the sugar had begun to melt into the creases of her hand. Dropping them carelessly next to their dish, she wiped her hand on her robe and made her way into the bedchamber.
After closing the door, she had stood for a time, not knowing what she should do. As the sensations of her passion abated, doubt, condemnation and hurt came in their place. What have I done? was the only thought that would come to her mind . . . What was it that I could have said to cause him so quickly to retreat? His passion had been as obvious as her own and she was confident of the direction the evening had been moving . . . What have I done?
Pacing the room proved fruitless, the fire had been banked high and all her agitation only caused her to grow hot, though she had divested herself of her robe and wore only her nightdress. As she had passed by a small mirror decorating the mantelshelf, she took it down and brought it over to the bed, nearer the candles. Looking at her reflection, she studied her own drawn face. Biting her lip, she thought, Is this what he sees? No wonder he can't bring himself to the act. Thinking back to his reactions earlier in the evening, when she had been so silly to throw the towel, and joke about the bath . . . A blotchy little girl . . . stupid and stuttering . . . Had he merely been tolerating her nettlesome behaviour and not playing along with her as it had seemed? Lowering the mirror, she lay down and the tears began.
Later, having cried herself to sleep, Louisa came awake slowly . . . and alone. "Mmm . . . where am I? . . . oh, please remember, remem . . . re . . . Resplendent! Yes, I am at the Resplendent! We are in Kidderminster for the night, a lovely inn . . . ah-h! . . . why must that be the first thing that comes to my mind? He is not here . . . and his side is not rumpled . . .but perhaps he will come to bed soon." Hearing nothing in the outer chamber, she determined that he must have truly gone to bathe. Things had been quiet for some time. The fire had burned down, the candles were guttering out one by one. The room was still quite warm and the light was low; a room ideally suited for passion . . . but not for them . . . not tonight.
Louisa gave a few more moments to the hope of his joining her, but then began to think about the evening. After he had left her, she had made her way into the bedchamber and tried to reason through his leaving. The crying had come, since the only explanation that satisfied her was her own inadequacy. "I thought myself so clever in the autumn, teasing with him, and flirting. Making him think I was more grown and womanly . . . like others he has undoubtedly known. And then . . . when he does come to me, I am silly and ignorant of the ways of pleasing a man . . . I tremble and am awkward . . .I offer him candies! . . . no wonder he left me," she moaned.
Turning to her stomach and hugging a pillow close, she continued to muse on the autumn and had passed between them. "I revelled each time Charles turned his face from my behaviour . . . or when Papa chose to keep still about my drawing him away to myself when he would be invited to Uppercross . . .I was left to my own and see what I have made of it."
Kicking the blankets to one side, she turned and plumped the pillow. As she lay down, she noticed her braid. The tie was missing and it was coming undone, but she left it, she cared little about it now. It had been her hair that had begun this dreadful night. "Now I see why some women are cutting it completely off! No need for anything . . . or anyone that way!" Tossing the braid behind her, she settled into the pillow. Just then, she heard the door latch open slowly.
She quickly closed her eyes. She did not wish him to know she was awake. He is stirring the fire . . . perhaps he is intending to come to bed and is banking the fire for the night . . . the tools are being put away . . . I hear nothing now. Why does he sigh? The door closed, quietly.
Has he left . . . ? After laying quite still for a time, Louisa slowly opened her eyes and raised her head. She saw no one. He had obviously not come to bed, but had taken care to bank the fire, then had left her. "I wonder if he will come back and try to rest? I do not wish him to sleep out in the sitting room . . . or worse the dressing room . . . I think that is the door I heard close earlier. He most likely looked in and was repulsed by the thought of a girl in a childish pink nightdress sharing his bed . . . he expected a woman . . . he could not force himself to lie down with me. Everyone has their limitations, I suppose. Oh G-d . . . shall it always be this way?"
Just as she had uttered the words, she heard the door to the hallway close. "Oh, G-d! That was the door going out!. Where is he going to? " Quickly climbing from the bed, she went to the door of the chamber and threw it opened. She faced an empty room. Rushing to the dressing room and going through to the bathing room, she proved that he had left. "His satchel, has he taken the satchel?" In a panic, she ran back to the bedchamber. Hurriedly opening the door to the wardrobe, she pulled out his valise. Clutching it to herself, she leant against the jamb and muttered, "He has not left me . . . No, thank G-d. All his money and papers are in it, he would not be leaving me totally and go without it . . . he would have taken his papers and money were to leave for good. Thank G-d, he has not left me." After a long time, she realised how absurd the entire idea of his leaving had been. Replacing the valise, she softly closed the wardrobe door. Exhaustion suddenly overtook her and all she wished was sleep . . . some peaceful sleep. "Lie down, girl," she said to herself. "Rest . . . it is a long night yet."
Pulling the wide entry door of the Resplendent closed, the Captain pulled the collar of his great coat up around his neck. The wind was freshening and a light snow blew about. Descending the broad stairs to the sidewalk, he quickly reckoned the direction he wished to go.
It was not by accident that the Captain had chosen to walk the more indecent streets of Kidderminster. They were a far cry from the wide, clean boulevard on which the Resplendent made its formidable mark. Tonight, it was Krekston's Lane and its denizens with which he desired to take his ease.
As the coach had entered Kidderminster the previous afternoon, Trimble had chosen to cross over the slow-moving Sevren River by the most direct route, Krekston's Bridge. As in most cities of any size, the river district is not the finest of areas and these which lay at either end of this particular bridge were no exceptions. It was safe enough in daylight, but at night, what was merely shabby and frowsy became much worse.
While they had been crossing, the Captain and Louisa had been conversing but he had taken enough notice of his surroundings to know it was in this grimy part of town he now wished to haunt.
The raucousness of the pubs, the squalid rooming houses and the vulgar women marking a brothel or two assured him not only of his economic superiority, but would hopefully reinvigorate his sense of moral superiority as well. Though on this night, Frederick took no comfort in the fact he carried more money in his satchel than some of these people, honestly or dishonestly might handle in a lifetime. And even more galling was the knowledge that after his night with Louisa, his moral superiority was hanging like a battered sail, so damaged it was unable to catch a breeze.
Forgetting what had taken place in that lovely room at the Resplendent would not be allowed and each of the events repeated themselves in a continual circuit through his mind. Louisa's amiability through the early part of the evening naturally flowed into thoughts of the untaught passion which had begun to overtake them both. The full-blown pleasure of it was always juxtaposed with the vileness of his betraying thoughts of Anne.
The memory itself was base enough, but the abject duplicity in covering his slip sickened him even more. When he had withdrawn to the bathing room, he was forced to see that fulfilling himself with his wife while conjuring images of Anne would be a gross violation of his vows of marriage, worse yet, it was a desire which cried greedily to be fulfilled.
As he walked the streets, his thoughts were rudderless: no sure course, no destination, just driven along with whatever wind or wave overtook them at the moment.
I always wonder that the religious decry the filthier parts of a city. If for no other reason, it gives them, and a man such as myself a quarter in which to feel our moral superiority so keenly . . . In my valise, I carry more money than many of these poor wretches will ever see in a lifetime . . . and that is not even a half of my means . . . I am a man of such consequence, eh Captain?
The snow was still falling, but it was not a snow heavy enough to settle anywhere. It gave him a perverse bit of pleasure to see the flakes gather in a corner, thinking themselves at rest and then a gust blowing them back into the air . . . not unlike his own heart being blown about by the wind of his emotions . . . he could find no rest either.
Passing by a drunkard collapsed out on the sidewalk, he continued his musings.
No, this part of a city serves us nicely . . . the well-heeled sot can come here and look at a fellow such as him, face down in the snow and feel quite confident that before he becomes too far gone, instead of ending in his own spew, his man will assist him to his rooms, undress him and pour him betwixt the sheets . . . And the adulterer comes to see the men paw at the whores, feeling oh so smug that he betrays his wife so cleanly and with a better sort of woman . . . yes, the wife of a friend . . . or, perhaps the daughter of a business partner . . . or as I . . . with the memory of an old love. Yes, I am the cleanest of them all . . . there is not even a woman to be caught with . . . Louisa would think herself loved and never suspect a thing. How simple it would be! I could then know Anne in a way never before possible! And after a time, I would grow used to not saying her name as I blunderingly did this evening. But until then . . . I covered oh so well. "Ann-d I have always loved your hair," . . . ah, it fell so trippingly, didn't it? Not a thought given . . . it came to rescue me quite unbidden. The sneering in his mind's voice was becoming more pronounced as he continued on this course.
As he thought more on how naturally lying seemed to come to him, a whole world of duplicity opened, one that he himself had held in contempt only a few years previous.
At his elevation to captain and with his command of the Laconia, his social obligations had expanded and Frederick had increasingly found himself in what many would call 'superior' company. The company itself was very rarely 'superior.' While the ranks were indeed higher, and the men of more consequence, he had found that many times what looked to be better company was merely better fed and dressed; better able to cover their debaucheries.
In particular was a situation of which he had been made acquainted after landing on Madeira, the Port of Funchal.
One of the first social invitations he had manoeuvered through was a dinner at the home of Admiral Trygger Truman. Admiral Truman was neither brilliant, nor particularly clever, but he was the son of an Earl. And while he had no squadron over which to hoist a pennant, Admiral Truman did his duty to Crown and Country by keeping the thieving of the local ship wrights to a bearable level and seeing that when captains anxious to be refitted were willing, the bribes found their way into the appropriate pockets. Captain Wentworth had known little of the cosy arrangements that characterised the port of Funchal at the time, but quickly became familiar with them and their overseer.
The dinner at the Truman home was lovely. The Admiral had taken great pride in presenting to the company his older sons before they were shooed off to bed. Mrs. Truman had proven to be a wonderful hostess. Not only lovely to look on, she was witty and made each guest feel quite at home. She had even taken great pains to arrange for enough female dinner partners for all the gentlemen. Even a newly posted captain, who, at any other dinner, would have been relegated to the back of the room with those of the lower ranks that were highly connected, but invited only out of necessity. The Admiral's brandy and cigars had been the finest and the evening's entertainment by local musicians had been superb.
There had been nothing that Frederick could have named that might bring shame upon the host or the evening. Nothing that is, until he had conversed with several acquaintances who were kind enough to apprise him of the Truman family 'arrangement.'
It seemed that the Mrs. Truman who had so graciously greeted the party had actually been one Mrs. Dorothea Campbell. A London widow of no consequence and no fortune. The true Mrs. Admiral Trygger Truman resided in the family seat in Wessex and had not set a foot out of country in ten years. Both were aware of the others' existence and each was quite grateful for the other's contributions to the Admiral's career.
The out of country Mrs. Truman proved to be invaluable to the Admiral by being his hostess and providing the society necessary to a man wishing to gain ground with the Admiralty. The in country Mrs. Truman kept alive the family presence in Wessex and most importantly, raised the future heirs to the Truman title and fortune.
Frederick's merchant class morality had been incensed by such an arrangement, but he had kept his opinions to himself. The Laconia was in need of work and having no money for bribes, he was dependent upon the good-will cultivated with Admiral Truman to see his ship properly outfitted.
Remembering this particular arrangement caused him to ponder such an arrangement for himself . . . and Anne.
Any other time, he would think that there was no hope in the world of convincing her to take part in such an abominable scheme, but if the rumours that he had heard at Uppercross about Sir Walter were true, the gentleman was very near the end of any mercy when it came to his creditors . . . and that would leave Anne destitute. Lady Russell would no doubt take her in, but if he were just able to talk to her, perhaps he could persuade her to go another way.
And Frederick would not humiliate her by such a blatant flouting of convention, he would not present her as his wife and expect her to play that part in public! No, they would be very quiet and to themselves in this, besides, it would be a few years yet before he could hope to take the step up to admiral, and until then, there would be no advantage of placing her on a foreign station. For there to be any hope of them being together, he would have to keep her in country, close to any home he made with Louisa. Perhaps he could install Anne in a larger city! Perhaps even London. She would have diversions in the theatre and concerts . . . quite different from the quiet society of Kellynch, she would enjoy that, surely. . . and the Admiralty at Whitehall would give him more than enough excuses to travel to the city . . . ! And once he made Admiral . . . then a foreign station would be possible!
"G-d! Stop it, you reprobate, dog!" He nearly shouted the words and with them came warm feelings enough that several milling on the sidewalks looked at him, but wild rantings were not uncommon in this place and so his were given no real attention.
Pulling his greatcoat closer, Frederick stalked on. The whole scenario he had just outlined for himself was extraordinarily vile, and he could not help hearing his pesky brother--The Rector. Edward had again predicted with accuracy this course that Frederick might take.
"You have made an honourable decision . . . once this part is finished, if you are reasonable, I think you will have no more hardship than others new to marriage . . . but if you persist in thinking yourself despicable, you will soon truly become so. . . there will be nothing keeping you from travelling that road and you will allow yourself license that you never thought you would. Please ... don't do that."
The whole of what he had thought was despicable. He would debauch a woman he claimed to love, he would betray vows taken before God and his family . . . and a trusting girl who he was growing to . . . he could not even name what his feelings there might be. He would use the foolishness of the Baronet to take advantage of Anne and entice her into a degrading union with him, one with no hope of true happiness. He would betray Louisa, the woman who would bear him the children to inherit his fortune and his honourable name. That was the worst of it. What he would do to the three of them would not stop with them . . . it would continue on and on. His actions would start a legacy that could destroy his family for generations.
Frederick had given thought to children at times, not many, but enough to know his own mind about certain things. He knew that he did not wish his children to suffer him as the Wentworth children had suffered their father. If he were to carry out his concoction of wickedness, his true children would bear the burden of his obvious contempt for their mother. He knew that with his own father, the contemptible treatment of his mother was exactly how the man had eventually treated Edward and Sophia and finally himself. While his children born to Anne, would be easily loved because of his feeling for their mother, they would one day be faced with the truth about him--and their mother. They would forever be on the wrong side of the blanket and no amount of love would change the fact that their father had done such a thing to them.
He knew in his heart that the only avenue left was to forget her. To put her completely and inexorably out of his thoughts. Frederick knew himself too well, if he allowed the luxury of contemplation on thoughts as those earlier, he would begin to work towards them. He would become as determined in this as he had been in his career. His anger with Anne had kept him at bay for eight years and a half, but now, if he allowed, desire would drive him to certain destruction of them both.
"Why didn't she just marry Musgrove and be done with it?" he muttered. Looking back, had he returned to Somerset and found such to have been the case, he would have been hurt and angered, but at least he would know her to be well cared for. Musgrove was not an exceptional man by any means, but he would be faithful and she would have improved him. Yes, Anne would have made Charles Musgrove an excellent wife!
"Think Anne'll make a good sailor's wife?"
The words came to him suddenly. Again that night, an unexpected voice from the past came to him. It took him some time to remember where he had heard it. It had been Charles Musgrove! The occasion had been the wedding . . . after he and Benwick had exchanged words.
"Yes, he'll do . . . He'll do very well, I think. Already looking out for her, protecting her. I like that in a man."
" . . . Already looking out for her." Those had been Charles' exact words. "And he had been," Frederick said under his breath. ". . . he said he had found her out somewhere crying and had seen her to the house . . .put her before the fire . . .covered her . . . brandy. And this was not the first time he had seen to her . . . in Lyme his attentions were . . . his attentions were great ...!"
It was coming clear to him that James Benwick had not developed a sudden interest in Anne at Uppercross . . . there had been an attraction much earlier . . . and . . . the attraction had been somewhat mutual. Anne had not treated Benwick's prodigious attention with disdain . . . but cordiality . . . no, with distinct pleasure!
The last time Frederick had seen them together was when Benwick had escorted Anne to the carriage that he might take her and Henrietta back to Uppercross. There had been no conversation that he could see but there had been a general feel of good-will on both their parts, and an ease as they a said their good byes.
Recalling as much as he was able concerning Anne and Benwick in Lyme, he began to take comfort. While it was ridiculous to think that his own feelings for Anne over the years had somehow done her any good -- she had never known his mind and there had certainly been no material good done by them -- he was disconcerted by the notion of releasing her from his thoughts. It was as if she would drift alone, friendless and abandoned into the lonely world. "But if she were to go to Benwick . . ." he murmured.
Frederick also knew that James Benwick would not have taken the time to reproach Musgrove had he not been motivated by something other than simple gallantry. Benwick was a man as solicitous of a woman's comfort, as any alive. Nay, more so, but he had seen something greater at work in his friend than mere chivalry. There had been more on the mind of James Benwick than Mrs. Musgrove's treatment of her sister . . . much more.
After thinking on about Anne and Benwick, and walking further and longer than he had ever intended, he came back to the boulevard where the Resplendent lay. As he came closer to the inn, Frederick knew that no matter what happened between the two of them, he must release Anne. He must let go the sweet memories and put them away. He must guard himself against the unprincipled fantasies in which he had indulged earlier. Anything to do with Anne must be banished from his heart and his mind. To remain faithful to himself and his marriage, he must bid her good bye.
Having made his decision, the Captain found, as most do, that relief comes and takes up residence in the heart of the one deciding. Frederick knew he would return to the room at the Resplendent, and laying down next to his wife, if she were awake and willing, he would begin his marriage.
Chapter 10, Part 1
~~~ At Sir Walter's residence in Bath ~~~
"Sir ... and ... Milady."
Elizabeth Elliot gave the barest of civil nods to the thin little man who bowed and simpered before her. His mien was one of grovelling respectfulness, save the eyes. Watchful and shifting, they held a half-hidden smirk of smug satisfaction which caused her to stiffen.
"Horrid man," she muttered under her breath, as her father escorted him through to the front entry. He and Sir Walter had been closeted together in the library on an unknown matter of business; now he was leaving. And good riddance! Elizabeth sniffed, sincerely hoping never to see this person in Camden Place again.
She moved over to the drawing room windows and stood looking down at the street below, watching as he climbed into the hired hack which had brought him. As he bent to enter the vehicle, he shot a sharp, appraising look up at the house; through the window glass his eyes met hers. A woman of lesser substance would have blushed and backed away from such an exchange, but not Elizabeth Elliot. She pursed her lips and returned his brazen gaze through narrowed eyes. Her whole bearing was one of complete contempt. "Horrid, horrid man!" she repeated.
The hack rumbled off down the street, turned the corner and disappeared from sight, but the frown on her lovely face did not. "What on earth can Father have to do with such a dreadful person?" she grumbled to herself. Everything about the man had shrieked of his low-born origins. His ancient black overcoat and tall, battered hat were positively comical! But Elizabeth was not of a mind to laugh, not today.
She turned back toward the drawing room doors, awaiting her father's return to the room. Today she intended to find out exactly who this man was and why he had been coming; no more would she allow herself to be deterred by her father's vague explanations! Elizabeth tapped her foot impatiently as she waited. She heard her father's voice, and Burton's, some scuffling, shifting noises ... and then the sound of the outer door opening once again. Obviously, someone was coming in ... or leaving!
Elizabeth moved quickly to open the drawing room door. "Father?"
Sir Walter turned back from the threshold, briefly. "Ah my dear! I am going out. A ... little matter of business to transact. I shall be back shortly." With a smile and a nod he was gone, leaving his eldest daughter standing rooted to the spot in surprise. Father? Going out on a matter of business? Himself?
Aware of Burton's silent, but interested presence, she returned to the privacy of the drawing room and began to pace the length of it, her delicate silk skirts rustling softly as she moved about the room. Try as she might, she could not control her growing uneasiness. Her father never handled business transactions himself! And his tone of voice had been pleasant, almost ... cheerful. But how can that be? Elizabeth bit her lip as she thought. Especially after such a dreadful letter this morning!
And this unknown man had come again. How could she explain his presence? Not someone we know socially, of course, she speculated as she continued to pace. It was curious that her father should be so polite to such an one. Not a solicitor. That sort of man would dress fashionably, and would have more gracious manners. A merchant? A tradesman? Elizabeth's beautiful amber eyes narrowed as she remembered the battered black satchel the man had carried. Or ... could he be ... a moneylender?
She stopped pacing and sighed. Perhaps Anne is right after all. Although loath to admit it to anyone, Elizabeth was now coming to realize that her father's removal to Bath had not brought the carefree life she had expected. He was certainly pleased with their new situation and society; in fact, he had been heard to say on more than one occasion that this was something he should have done years ago! And there was no reason why she should not be equally as delighted with life in Bath. There had been introductions, and many flattering invitations, and the promises of the amusements of the spring season; there was the intoxication of her beautiful new gowns, now beginning to be delivered ... So why do I feel so ... mistrustful of it all? Elizabeth pondered. Because everything that seems too wonderful to be true generally is! Especially where Father is concerned!
Heaving another sigh, she cast herself into one of the elegantly upholstered chairs before the fire, thinking. That letter this morning from Mr. Shepherd! She pulled at the ornate fringe on one of the richly brocaded pillows as she went over in her mind what had transpired.
The postmark "Crewkherne" had probably been the cause of the entire incident; without it, the letter would have remained on her father's desk with the rest of his correspondence. As it was, Sir Walter had noticed it, had recognized Mr. Shepherd's hand ... and had assumed it was for his daughter. He had given the letter to Penelope at the conclusion of their breakfast that morning.
"Oh no, dear sir!" Penelope had smilingly returned it, dropping a tiny curtsey, a charming habit she had when speaking to the baronet. "Please excuse me, but this is addressed to you!"
Sir Walter took the letter with an answering smile of thanks and a small, cordial bow, as he was wont to do when addressing personable young women such as Mrs Clay. But his look of gentle courtesy changed to a frown, and then to a scowl as he opened it and began to read. "Preposterous, Shepherd!" he burst out. "What lunacy!" Straightway he had crumpled the letter and began roundly abusing poor Mr. Shepherd's person and abilities. Penelope had flushed to hear such things said about her father, and fled the dining room in shame. Sir Walter watched her go, an annoyed expression on his face; he had forgotten her presence. The offending letter was tossed into the fireplace before he, too, quitted the room, leaving Elizabeth alone at table with Anne. I thought we had left such scenes behind us, she sighed. Obviously not.
For a full minute, an awkward silence had reigned as both sisters sat staring at the remains of their breakfast. It seemed to Elizabeth that time had stood still just then. The ticking of the clock was the only sound in the room; to hide her discomfort at her father's unmannerly outburst, she busied herself with pouring out more tea. She absently watched as she stirred the swirl of white milk into the dark beverage; her silver spoon made a musical chime against the rim of her fine china cup. Elizabeth had looked up just then. Quite unintentionally, her eyes met Anne's.
It was only for a moment, but it had been enough to see an expression of anxiety and genuine concern on her sister's face. It was followed by a look of wary determination. Sending the lone attendant from the room on the pretext of procuring a fresh pot of tea, Anne pushed back her chair, made her way directly to the fireplace and, with the aid of a poker, retrieved the letter. Their father's aim had been poor; it had not reached the flames entirely. Anne knelt and smoothed the paper on the surface of hearth, careful not to leave any telltale smudges of soot from its burnt edge.
"It is from Mr. Shepherd," she said as she straightened, speaking as one resigned to trouble. She averted her eyes and sighed deeply. "And all is far from well, apparently. Here. Read for yourself." And after handing it to Elizabeth, she, too, left the room.
Elizabeth knew she should not have looked at the letter, but violating the dictates of conscience had become nearly second nature to her, especially these last few years. Besides, it had been Anne who had rescued it from the fire; hers was the greater share of the blame. But when she had finished reading it, Elizabeth better understood the look of desperate concern on her sister's face.
This letter she had kept, folding it into a square for safekeeping. It was now in her pocket, evidence of a hard truth which her sister had long suspected, and Elizabeth was only now coming to believe. The plan of retrenchment had not been entirely successful.
Alone in her room, Elizabeth had read it over and over again. She pulled it out now as she sat in front of the fire in the drawing room. The import of its contents still sounded absurdly foreign, or as if something from a bad dream. Mr. Shepherd wrote respectfully, but forthrightly. He had been receiving requests for payment from tradesmen in Bath which were mounting up at an alarming rate; of particular surprise was one very large cheque which had been made out to some sort of artisan! Mr. Shepherd was becoming concerned, lest these debts become in excess of the income of the estate (which monies included the rental fees paid by Admiral Croft). Did not Sir Walter understand the nature of a retrenchment?
Mr. Shepherd! Elizabeth fumed inwardly. How does he dare to write such things? Did we not follow his advice? "In Bath you may be important at comparatively little expense!" His very words! We were induced to believe that we should lose neither consequence nor enjoyment by relocating here!
But Mr. Shepherd's letter carried an ominous reminder of the terms under which Sir Walter's primary creditor had agreed to make over the loan: the quarterly payments must be paid in full and on time ... and this was news to Elizabeth. She had no knowledge of any such arrangement. Mr. Shepherd had minced no words in his appraisal of their predicament and in his proposal for extrication:
With the funds so low at present, it appears that securing the one hundred pound payment for March 25th could be a close-run thing. Therefore, may I respectfully advise that you exercise whatever means are in your power to raise the ready cash for said payment yourself. I would further advise a drastic and severe course of action: all unplanned, extemporaneous spending must cease immediately.
Elizabeth ground her teeth at Mr. Shepherd's choice of words. "Extemporaneous spending?" And that would be, what? Food to eat? Fires to warm ourselves? She tapped her foot impatiently, listing off "necessities" which, obviously, a man of Mr. Shepherd's ilk would think wasteful. Including ... the lavish redecoration of the front bedchamber? her thoughts taunted. Elizabeth froze at the justice of the accusation. This, certainly, was not a necessity by anyone's definition! Her thoughts went further. My ... new clothing? She covered her face with her hands.
But I must have these things! I must! The entire point of coming to Bath would be wasted, else! Every waking thought, every introducti on sought and every social engagement accepted had been with this in mind: to secure for herself an advantageous match. And this time, Father will not interfere! There had been more than a few offers for her hand over the years from gentlemen she had met during her annual visits to London, offers spurned by the fastidious Sir Walter. And if Anne is right! If we have nothing! But I must not think on it! She raised her head and took a deep breath. I cannot give way to ... idle speculation!
If only, Elizabeth's delicately arched brows furrowed, remembering, if only my Cousin William would come up to scratch! She smiled to herself as she thought about him. If only he would propose ... and if only I could have the glorious ability to refuse him! She had never forgotten the very pointed snubs dealt her by this man years ago, when she had willingly, nay, eagerly acquiesced to her father's plan of a matrimonial alliance. He will make an excellent husband, though ... unfortunately. Elizabeth pulled at the golden fringe on the cushion she held in her lap. She had every intention of accepting William Elliot, once his period of mourning was completed. After all, she thought bitterly, he has Father's three essential requirements: wealth, title, and a good appearance. All of her other suitors had been lacking in at least one. But this match would have Sir Walter's support ... and there was no question in Elizabeth's mind that Mr. Elliot would make an offer. Why else would he be coming to call so often? Ah well, she sighed in resignation.. He has become a much more pleasant companion than he was years ago. It will not be so very bad to be his wife.
But I wish I may do better than he! The small society in the vicinity of the Kellynch Estate had long ago lost its charm; the idea of remaining there and occupying her mother's place as Lady Elliot (as she had done these thirteen years) had very little appeal, apart from the title she would acquire. Now that we are becoming established in Bath, we shall see ...
The sound of laughter and friendly conversation in the front entry called her attention back to the present; her father and Mrs. Clay had returned together. Elizabeth hastily refolded Mr. Shepherd's letter and put a pleasant expression on her face; it would never do to let her father know that she suspected anything was amiss. His business transaction must have been completed successfully ... and Penelope's 'solitary ramble' in the park had been unmarred by any rain. She had been taking these walks several times a week now; they seemed to do much good in restoring her spirits..
And this evening provided a pleasant prospect; they were to attend a dinner at the Leighton's. And I must remember to ask Father to have my diamonds brought out of the vault, she reminded herself, as she rose to greet them, for I must certainly look my best tonight!
Elizabeth sat at the writing desk in the drawing room, intent on a rather large book which lay open before her. No general plotting a campaign, no admiral analysing the positioning of his ships, could be more seriously attentive to his task than she. "Leighton" was the name she had written at the top of the ledger page in her beautiful, flowing hand. But there were no financial figures marching across the pages of this book. Instead, its lines and columns were filled with Useful Information. Below the surname, Elizabeth had recorded the particulars of the Leighton family members.
Harold Leighton, elderly, retired to Bath for reasons of health.
Estate in Kent. "Maldondale"
Maude Stapleton Leighton, wife, of indifferent health and conversation
Gladiola Leighton Lamare, oldest daughter, married to Mr. Rupert Lamare.
Narcissus Leighton, unmarried younger daughter, engaged to Col. Robert Derrick, now serving in India. Not a Young Woman. A marriage of convenience? Resides with parents.
Hugo Leighton, only son, heir, married to ...
Elizabeth frowned in an effort to remember the name of Hugo Leighton's wife. No matter! It could be found out this evening. She scanned the contents of the page once again, committing the information to memory. The Leightons were not well-known to her; the daughters were uniformly plain and had the most hideous names! Elizabeth smiled to herself. Being in the company of plain women never did her any harm, especially if there were eligible gentlemen in attendance! Perhaps there would be some tonight! She resumed reading her entries.
December 15th ... first introduced at card party given by Vance LeCroix
Mrs. Leighton has a small dog (a pug) named "Vincent"
Very ill in November.
Mr. Harold Leighton a poor sport at whist. Capitulate!
Mr. Hugo Leighton, rather better at cards, an enthusiastic talker. Especially fond of horses: matched bays, a new phaeton
There followed more in this vein; each encounter, each conversation with the family was neatly recorded for future reference.
The newly-arrived newspaper was taken up next. Its pages rattled a little as she turned them, scanning the society column for any news of the Leightons. Finding nothing, Elizabeth refolded it and laid it on the desk. During her seasons in London, she had devised this system for keeping track of the members of Polite Society, their interests (useful for conversational gambit), and any hint of gossip. Far more precious (and useful!) to her than her father's copy of the Baronetage, she kept meticulous care in keeping The Book up to date. She had begun this new volume for Bath shortly after arriving; its pages were beginning to fill with personalities: those she had met, wished to meet, and would be careful to avoid.
"Father ..." A thought occurred to her as she closed the book. "I wonder if I might request a favor, please."
"Very well," came Sir Walter's reply from across the room. He was occupied with a game of backgammon with Mrs. Clay. "What is it you require, my dear?" He was in an especially pleasant frame of mind this afternoon. The rain had come, but it had not dampened his spirits at all.
Elizabeth rose from her chair and moved to stand beside the game table. "I would like my diamond drop earrings and pendant from the vault, if you please, Father," she replied. "I would like to wear them to the Leighton's tonight." She smiled at Mrs. Clay. "Don't you think the effect will be perfect with my silvery gown? Tres fashionable!"
"Ah, the new one, my dear? But of course, how stunning." Sir Walter returned her smile, but with a slight hesitation of manner. "But perhaps you should not consider wearing something so ... so understated. I suggest your grandmother's diamonds, dear; they are always so elegant. Do not diamonds have a timeless quality about them?"
"Grandmother Stevenson's diamonds?" Elizabeth wrinkled her nose. "Oh no. The setting, Father! How ... antiquated! No, I prefer my own beautiful earrings and pendant. You, at least, have much more discriminating taste than fusty old Grandmother Stevenson!" Elizabeth's diamonds had been a gift from her father upon the occasion of her twenty-first birthday.
"Ah ... yes! But my dear, the entire purpose of wearing such an ensemble is to show to all that we are of an ancient, noble lineage! Your diamonds ... why they are so new. We are not of the nouveau set, dearest, but not all in Bath know of it. We cannot hold the open Baronetage under their noses, now can we? No, I think the older jewels would be best tonight."
Elizabeth was not at all pleased with this response. The silver gown had been designed with her own diamonds in mind, to call attention to the size and brilliant fire of the stones. Elizabeth met her father's gaze directly.
"I thank you, Father, for your opinion. And I do understand your meaning. Perhaps some other time I will wear Grandmother's set. But I would prefer mine own diamonds tonight, please."
"Well, I would not!" Sir Walter replied peevishly, fixing his eyes on the game before him. "And I will not fetch them for you. Indeed ... I ... cannot! They are ... they have been taken ... to the jewelers ... for cleaning! I thought they looked ... rather ... dull, when you wore them last! You will wear the others tonight! Or, perhaps, the Elliot sapphires!" He tossed his head and pushed back his chair. Rising awkwardly, he made his way to refill his glass with sherry. "And for heaven's sake, sit down! Why in heaven's name are you standing about in that stupid way?"
Elizabeth turned and gave her father one of her clear, appraising looks. Jewelry cleaning? An unwelcome suspicion had begun to occur to her, but she was unwilling to give voice to it at this time. "Very well, sir," she said, sliding into the chair nearest the game table. "I shall wait to wear the gown until it may be properly seen. Might I have my garnet set, then?" These gems had gone missing a week ago, while Anne was away.
"Garnets! Poo!" her father grumbled as he filled his glass, "What are you about, daughter, to shame me before the Leightons? Those are nothing but rubbish! You never wear them nowadays!"
"The stones exactly match my maroon velvet gown, Father," she countered. "The earrings are quite ornate and beautiful."
"With your velvet gown?" He replaced the top of the crystal decanter with a snap. "You will look like a confounded Spanish woman in them! I won't have it!"
"Would I!? Then I shall wear a black lace mantilla, to match!" Elizabeth retorted, stung by his uncompromising answer. Obviously her father meant to withhold the garnet jewelry as well! Out of the corner of her eye she say Penelope Clay slip out of the drawing room door.
"And be mistaken for an attendee of a costume ball? Elizabeth! Do not be so foolish!"
"Very well, Father." Elizabeth spoke sweetly; inside she was seething. "I shall wear my ivory silk ... and my mother's pearls. They have not been sent for cleaning as well, have they?"
"No, indeed! Where did you get such an idea!" Sir Walter fulminated, not a little unnerved by the accusatory tone of his daughter's remark. " I shall have them brought down directly."
"I thank you, sir," came the gracious reply. "Please excuse me while I consult with Elise about my change in attire for this evening." Elizabeth rose and glided gracefully toward the door. In the hallway outside she found Mrs Clay studying her complexion in the ornate mirror there. "Oh, Miss Elliot! Do you think your father's lotion ..."
"I am sorry about the fracas, Penelope, dear," Elizabeth broke in. "Father is better now. You may continue your game, if you wish."
This was said in such a way that Mrs Clay could not mistake; it was a command not meant to be ignored. "Yes, Miss Elliot." She quietly returned to Sir Walter.
Elizabeth made her way to the stairway and took hold of the bannister. She pressed her other hand to her aching head. In addition to the unknown business of the odious little man, there were now more enigmas to puzzle her. She glanced back at the drawing room door through half-closed eyes; the sound of Mrs. Clay's gentle, soothing voice could be heard from within. "Very well, Father," she murmured quietly, "I shall bide my time. But I intend to find out about this ... man ... who came today. Has he come to clean my jewelry? Indeed, I think not!"
Continued in Part 4
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