Love Suffers Long and Is Kind, Volume II
Chapter 10, Part 2
~~~ Part Two ~~~
"Oh, dear sir!" Mrs Clay spoke to the baronet, her voice, as usual, soft and musical. "I do believe the next move is yours."
After a brief exchange of pleasantries, she and Sir Walter had resumed their game of backgammon; and the unpleasant exchange with Elizabeth was well on its way to being forgotten. A steady rain drummed against the tall windows of the drawing room as the two 'opponents' conversed amiably across the board.
"Ah, you are quite right. Mrs Clay: Please forgive me. My thoughts have been elsewhere." He threw the dice and moved a black disk. "There. Now what will you do with that?" He smiled, simple and proud at his own cleverness.
"Oh!" Penelope groaned, "You are such a vicious opponent, Sir Walter! How is anyone ever to get the better of you?" Sir Walter chuckled softly at her predicament; she hid a smile as she reached out for the pair of dice. She rolled them between her fingers for a moment in deliberation, pretending to concentrate on the game. Lifting her eyes briefly from the board, she sized up the opportunity before her. She was alone with him in the room, a rarity, indeed! Mrs Clay decided to make her move and threw the dice.
"Oh no!" she cried in dismay, as one of them slipped out of her hand and fell to the floor. As luck would have it, it rolled under the table. Mrs Clay quickly dropped to her knees to find it. So did Sir Walter.
"Do you ... see it ... anywhere?" she asked, crouching on her hands and knees, turning her head to hunt for it. Her eyes strayed more often to his face, for the search would never be successful; she had the missing die firmly pinned beneath her knee.
"Gah! I shall call the boy to search for it," he panted. "Please do not trouble yourself, my dear Mrs Clay."
"No, no! It is not important! Truly! I ... I will concede the victory to you, dear sir. My mind was not really on the game, you know."
"Nor was mine," he admitted. He smiled a little as he sat on his heels and looked at her. As she knelt, the low neckline of her gown revealed ...
"I am so very sorry about ... what happened this afternoon," she said softly. Her large gray eyes looked into his. "If I may be of help to you, Sir Walter, with ... anything ... I beg you will not ... hesitate to ask!" There was silence in the room as they regarded one another under the table.
"Uh, yes ... of course!" He came to his senses, blinking a little in stupefaction. "Thank you, my dear. I shall." He slowly got to his feet, and courteously assisted her to rise. "It is perhaps as well that we do not finish the game. You, I am sure, will have many preparations for this evening's dinner."
"Yes indeed!" Mrs Clay's cheeks delicately flushed. "Such a generous, obliging invitation, to include me! You have such thoughtful friends, sir. I ... shall wear the gray gown, your gift to me!" !" She blushed, lowering her eyes modestly. "It is so lovely! I have never owned such finery!" She stopt again, her blush more intense. "Oh, excuse me! I meant to say, 'the gift from Elizabeth and you'! I did not intend to imply anything ... improper!" She raised her eyes to meet his.
"Yes, yes, my dear, of course you did not." Sir Walter pulled himself to his full height, thrusting out his chest the tiniest bit. A young woman like this thinking I might be improper with her! A nice thought, to be sure! But then, why should it be so surprising that she should? Am I not, after all, quite remarkable-looking for my age? Aloud he said, "You are very welcome. And I shall look forward to our evening together, Mrs Clay."
"And I." She curtseyed and gracefully backed toward the door. "Thank you, sir!" On the whole, it had been quite a profitable ... game.
"Oh! Look!" She swiftly knelt by a nearby chair and brought up the missing die. "Here it is!" Mrs Clay smiled charmingly as she returned it, taking care to brush his hand with her fingertips. "Until tonight, then, sir." She felt his eyes watching her as she left the room. Yes, it had been a very profitable game, indeed!
Anne had spent the time since breakfast and all of the afternoon alone in her little room, her luncheon having been brought on a tray. She had quietly occupied herself with small tasks in an effort to drive the news of Mr Shepherd's letter -- and her father's easy dismissal of its contents (for she was certain he had not read it entirely!) -- from her mind. Now, seated at her desk, she tried to concentrate on a volume of selected poetry, but with little success. Her mind refused to fix itself on anything she attempted read; her thoughts still in a jumble. After turning to several of her favorites and finding them completely unappealing, she closed the book and laid it aside.
I shall not give in to idle worrying! Anne's eyes traveled over the desktop as she thought, searching for another task that needed doing. Every drawer had been tidied; the pens ordered in the standish, stationery stacked neatly in its place. I suppose there is a letter or two I might write, she thought, running her fingers over the smooth surface of the paper. But other than her weekly letter to Mary, she could think of no one to whom she was obliged to write. Except ...
Except ... that letter! Anne nibbled on a fingernail as she thought about it. Here was another dilemma, one which had troubled her since her return from Uppercross. What shall I do about ... it ... and him? If only I had remembered to return it, instead of putting it into my pocket!! She had yet to come up with a solution. Perhaps if I were to see it again I could think of something ...
Anne got up from her chair and crossed the room to the wardrobe. On the floor of it, beneath the hems of her gowns, was a square cedar box. Here, from childhood, Anne had kept her most precious possessions away from the prying eyes of the servants. For in a household as well-staffed as Sir Walter's, nothing went unnoticed. The contents of her drawers, the wardrobe, the pockets of her cloak and pelisse ... were available for all to see. Now, kneeling on the floor, she drew out her box and unlocked it. Slowly she removed a badly rumpled white square of cotton cloth ... Captain Benwick's handkerchief.
Once again she attempted to smooth it, rubbing it on her lap. This would never remove the wrinkles, but one could always hope! Hope for a miracle! Anne sighed, and looked at the square in dismay. I cannot send it back to him in this condition! But how to have it laundered?
For this was the central worry in Anne's predicament. To have the handkerchief properly washed, clearstarched, and pressed, it must be given to the housekeeper, or Elise, or one of the other maids with special instructions to return it directly to her. And to do so was clearly unthinkable, for Anne knew her world too well. Speculation would run wild through the downstairs staff as to the owner ... and the circumstances surrounding her possession of such a thing. Anne held it up and sighed. So obviously a man's handkerchief! Whatever am I to do? The thought that James Benwick might prefer to have it as it was (for though wrinkled, it had been used to dry her tears) never once occurred to her.
I suppose I could take it to the laundress myself, although ... her brow wrinkled with a frown, I do not know the location of such an establishment! And I ... At that moment, a knock sounded at the bedroom door. Anne hastily thrust the handkerchief into the pocket of her dress and pushed the wardrobe door shut.
"Enter," she called out, rising to her feet.
It was Elizabeth who opened the door. "Anne, I ..." She hesitated for a moment, trying to decide how to begin her request. Since she had learned of the "cleaning" of her diamonds, she had grown concerned about the location of her other jewelry. But at that moment, requesting anything from her father was out of the question. That had left only Anne to be asked for help. Now she needed to choose the words. This was proving harder than she thought.
"Elizabeth?" said Anne, at last. "Is there something you ... wanted?"
Elizabeth came fully into the room and closed the door. "There is. I ... wonder if you might do me a little favor." An awkward silence followed. Anne mistrusted her sister's "favors" as much as Elizabeth disliked asking for them. Elizabeth decided to pursue her objective in a roundabout way. "What are you wearing this evening, Anne?"
"To the Leighton's? My taupe silk," Anne replied, her mind, if not her voice, on-guard.
"Taupe? Oh." Elizabeth frowned at that. Anne read the look as condemnation of her choice of dress, and flushed. The colour is all wrong, but no matter! Elizabeth thought with irritation. To her sister, however, she composed herself to say, "I wonder if you would like ... to wear my emerald pendant this evening."
As the incredulous expression formed on Anne's face, she hastily added, "Or perhaps I shall, instead. It matters not ..." Her father's excuses had made her anxious to see this particular piece, but she had no intention of betraying her suspicions to Anne. Elizabeth realized that her concern had caused her to handle the request clumsily, and she began again, this time more truthfully.
"You see," Elizabeth explained, "Father and I ... have had a little ... row over jewelry this afternoon, and ÷ I do not wish to ask him for the necklace myself. Yet ... I would like to see it, to ... match the colour with something. And while it is out, it might do well for one of us to wear tonight. I wonder, then, if you would mind asking him to bring it out of the vault ... for you."
"But then he would expect me to wear it, and I do not think ..."
"Oh, very well, Anne!" Elizabeth replied, vexed at the response. "Since you must be so difficult about it, I will wait until another time!" Her sister was always like this -- deliberately contrary and uncooperative!
"Has Father recovered from ... the letter?" Anne asked quietly, as Elizabeth turned to go. "He spoke quite sharply about it to Mrs Clay. I was hoping ... "
Elizabeth looked back, her hand on the doorknob. "How would I know?" she interrupted. "Ask him yourself! But I believe he and Penelope have made it up. They are playing backgammon together in the drawing room now."
"Elizabeth, how could you? To leave them alone like that!"
Elizabeth's dropped her hand and took a step toward her sister. "Are you continuing to nurse those ridiculous fears for Father, Anne?" she demanded. "For shame! He shall never have an interest in Penelope Clay! And even if he does come to have a particular fondness for her, it shall never go beyond!
"Fondness is where admiration and love begin, Elizabeth. And after that comes ..."
"Penelope knows her place, Anne. And Father knows his! And even if she did not, she is far too plain to appeal to a gentleman of taste, such as Father is! He loathes freckles as much as I!" She smiled condescendingly. "You have not been in London with us, Sister-dear. I have seen the sort of woman he admires. You can be sure there are no areas of similarity between such handsome women of wealth and rank ... and poor, provincial, common Penelope Clay!"
Anne met Elizabeth's frown with an even gaze. "I certainly hope you are right, Elizabeth!"
"I am, dear! You may rest assured about that! And never mind about the emerald necklace. You are quite right, it would look poorly with your gown. I shall compare the colour another time." Having recovered her composure, Elizabeth smiled graciously and removed herself from Anne's presence.
"My taupe silk," Anne repeated to herself, as the door closed. Elise had already pressed the gown. It was hanging in the wardrobe, ready for the evening. "It shall not look poorly with my agate necklace, Elizabeth!" she said aloud, to the door. "It may not be as elegant as the emerald, but the colour is quite perfect!" She collected herself. What had she been doing, before Elizabeth's interruption? She remembered, and pulled Benwick's handkerchief out of her pocket and looked at it. "This."
"I must think." She wandered about the room for awhile, searching her mind for a solution to the problem. At last she sat down on the edge of her bed, but this only made her aware of her weariness. It was quite taxing to do nothing all day but work to keep from worry. I am a little tired! she thought with a sigh, And I can think of absolutely nothing that can be done about this!
Anne closed her eyes and lay down upon the bed, deciding that a nap would do very well to restore her spirits. It would likely be a long evening at the Leighton's. She grasped the corner of the counterpane from the other side of the bed and covered herself. She took a deep breath and felt the tension begin to leave her body. All was quiet in the room. The rain beat against the windows; it felt good to be inside, dry and warm, on such a stormy winter day.
Anne continued to hold the handkerchief as she lay there. Her fingers found the monogram embroidered at its corner and she traced along the raised surface of the three initials. Her thoughts, a little softened now, returned to him. Captain Benwick. He was so ... good to me. I don't suppose he would miss this, were I not to return it. But I shall never see him again and I cannot repay his kindness with ... common thievery! She took a deep breath and decided to think about it later, after she had rested. Surrendering to her sleepiness, she snuggled comfortably into the bedding. The counterpane felt warm and heavy across her shoulders.
Memories of the wedding floated across her mind, the last time she had seen Captain Benwick. He had been very kind on that most difficult day, listening compassionately as she spoke of her heartbreak, holding her as she wept. Anne could almost feel his arms around her, now, as on that day, comforting her. In her memory, she could hear his voice, speaking earnestly ...
"... perhaps we should do that ... dare to hope for love someday. It will not be the same, of course, not in the beginning. And it may come from an unexpected source ..."
"Love from an unexpected source," Anne murmured to herself, stifling a yawn. "Benwick is right. It could never be the same ... but it might be ... nice ... to be loved again." She had never cherished the hope that love might come her way, but ... The Leighton's dinner party this evening would have many who were new to her, and some might be eligible gentlemen. As she listened to the rain, she thought what it might be like to have a new love. Perhaps I shall meet someone wonderful ... from an unexpected ... Anne yawned again, source ... perhaps ... she stretched just a little, I might meet him ... tonight ... and slowly she drifted off to sleep, smiling just a little into the pillow.
Elizabeth entered her bedchamber abruptly, stripping off her evening gloves as she came. Her maid staggered sleepily to her feet, dropped a small curtsey, and hastily began preparing to assist her mistress with the removal of her gown.
"No, no Elise!" Elizabeth waved her off impatiently. "Do go away! I need ... oh! Attend to Anne first!"
As Elise left the room, Elizabeth heaved a sigh and groaned. The evening had proved positively ... mortifying! She closed her eyes and sighed again in vexation. Anne had had a wonderful time! But herself -- ! She dropped into the chair before her dressing table, kicked off her kidskin shoes, and held her aching head with her hands. "Father!" she hissed her thought aloud, "you have quite outdone yourself this time! I hope you are ... pleased!" Her shoulders sagged as she relived the agonies of the evening.
Such dreary parties were becoming commonplace, but her father's behavior tonight! Elizabeth pulled herself upright and began to work at unfastening the clasp of her mother's string of pearls. She knew that Sir Walter would not be able to retire until he had seen them safely restored to the vault.
"Perhaps I should keep you waiting, Father!" Elizabeth muttered, maliciously. "And you would be well-served, after such treatment tonight!" Not that Sir Walter had behaved in an impolite manner toward any guest -- in fact, quite the opposite! His manner toward several of the unmarried gentlemen had been openly obsequious and flattering. And it had been he,of all people, who had suggested the dancing, compelling Anne to play for them all!
Elizabeth felt her face grow hot with the shame she had dared not allow herself to feel at the party. "How could he! Lord Farrington is old enough to be ... my grandfather!!" Elizabeth grumbled, still fumbling with the clasp. "And for Father to pitch me at him in that odious, obvious way! I was never so ... humiliated!" Necklace, earrings, and bracelets, once removed, were dropped on the marble-topped table. Elise would put them away in their velvet-lined cases.
Elizabeth turned her head to study her reflection in the mirror. Her face held a haggard, weary expression. "The most beautiful woman in Bath," she muttered. She had been pleased beyond measure to hear those words said about her after their arrival in town; now they stung, mockingly. "And quite unmarried. How delightful! Bah!" She quieted, and thought, Am I yet so old, so ... at my last prayers ... that I am to be ... pleased ... with the attentions of a worn-out man of fashion such as that ... creature! Never! She began to finger the pearls. Tears welled up in her eyes; Elizabeth swallowed them down. She never allowed herself to weep over hurts and disappointments until she was completely alone, in the dark privacy of her bed.
And weep she certainly would, for it had been a dreadful day and a worse evening! All her careful preparations for this event had been completely wasted! The only unattached gentlemen in attendance tonight were nowhere near her age, with the sole exception of her cousin, William Elliot. And true to his "plan," he had spent much of the evening conversing with Anne ... leaving her to the eager attentions of ancient Lord Farrington!
Elizabeth sniffed and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, managing a wry little smile. Had I known that Father would make such a ... spectacle ... of me, I would have worn that dress and the mantilla, just to annoy him! But no, the garnets are being cleaned, apparently. Although he did not say this; he had simply dismissed them as being "rubbish." Elizabeth sighed. Somehow she would get to the bottom of this tangle ... after she had repulsed the attentions of "Grandfather" Lord Farrington.
Elise returned to the room, her tread quiet so as not to provoke her mistress further. In her arms she carried The Book. It was Elizabeth's habit, before retiring, to there record the events of any social occasion she attended; tonight would be no exception.
"Thank you, Elise. Bring that here, and the pen and ink. And take these" -- she indicated the pearls on the tabletop -- "to Father. Then attend to Mrs Clay; I shall be some time at this." Elise obeyed, and left the room without delay.
Elizabeth shook off her renewed disgust at her elderly suitor and began to apply herself to the task at hand. Each guest would be recorded on the proper pages. Many were already known to her, but there were a few new ones: a Mrs Rushworth, for instance, the particular friend of Mrs. Leighton. She is a widow, obviously wealthy, with a house in Bath, although not residing there permanently at present. Elizabeth frowned as she searched her memory. Had Mrs Rushworth a grown son? She had overheard a snatch of a complaint about "Augustus on the prowl again ..." And she had caught this woman observing her narrowly several times during the course of the evening ... which would be duly noted.
"But first, before anything else," Elizabeth smiled wickedly to herself, turning to a fresh page, "I begin with him!" She dipped her pen into the silver-trimmed inkwell. "Farrington" she wrote boldly across its top, and made the first entry. Lord Gerald Farrington, not a Young Man ...
"We are nearly there. The Rectory is just a little up this road, a quarter mile or so. When we arrive, I'll carry you upstairs straight away." Frederick looked at his wife and was alarmed that she grew more pale the longer they drove. "I wish you had told me about your headache first thing . . . we might have stayed in Kidderminster until you were better." He did not voice the opinion that his 'apology' had not made things any easier.
Without opening her eyes, Louisa said, "There is no time for me to be ill . . . you leave in just a few days! Besides, it was not so very bad this morning, but as the jostling has gone on and on . . . then after eating, it has grown worse . . . worse than any I've ever had. And . . . you shall not carry me into their house! I shall walk in like a good Christian woman, not some irrational creature taken with the vapours!" Reaching into her reticule for a handkerchief, the soap she had taken from The Resplendent clattered to the floor of the coach.
Both watched it as it spun and bounced about their feet. When it settled, Frederick leant down and snatched it up. Opening his gloved hand, he looked at it and then to Louisa. "Soap?"
Calmly reaching out and taking it from her husband, Louisa replaced it. Closing the bag, then dabbing her upper lip with the handkerchief, she murmured, "These things are meant to be taken." Beads of perspiration were beginning to appear. She grew hot and then cold and was beginning to think that she was truly ill, not merely feeling the effects of the headache.
"I have never heard of such a thing . . . taking soap from an inn," he muttered. "Well, no matter." Watching out the window, he saw the Rectory a little way off. "We are nearly there, I see Edward." Taking a second look, he noticed the man had no beard, that perhaps it was not his brother. "At least, I think it to be Edward."
As the coach drew closer to the Rectory, he saw that the man was indeed his brother. The carriage slowed and Frederick opened the door so that he might help Louisa immediately to the house.
"Hello, Brother! You are certainly anxious to be with us . . . dismounting before you even stop!" Edward said with a laugh.
Kicking down the step, he jumped to the ground and turned towards the door. Frederick said, "Good to see you, Edward. Louisa is very ill and I must get her into the house immediately." Taking taking his wife's hand, he urged, "Come, handsomely . . . handsomely, there. Now . . . lean in, I've got hold of you." Taking her by the arm and holding her about the waist, he began to walk her to the house.
Weakly raising her hand, Louisa said, "Hello, Rector. I'm sorry to be such a bother."
Edward had rarely seen a person so pale still standing, he grew somewhat alarmed. Coming round to the other side, he took Louisa's other elbow and together the brothers guided her to the house. "Catherine! Catherine! I need you to come . . . now!" he called.
"I saw from the window," Mrs. Wentworth called, holding the door. "Be gentle. Just one more step up . . . there you go. Captain, what are you thinking? . . . carry her! . . . she's near fainting."
"She'll not allow it!. . . she's not an irrational creature, you know!" Frederick looked at Catherine with a look of vexation.
"Ah! . . . I see." Giving her husband a look, she took his place. Catherine bent and tilted her head to look into Louisa's eyes. Taking the girl's hand, she said, "Louisa, I am the elder Mrs Wentworth . . . Catherine, and while we are happy to have you in our home, you look to be poorly and so I am insisting that your husband carry you up those stairs, they are narrow and a bit tricky if one is not steady. Besides, husbands always enjoy making themselves useful in such a heroic manner . . . am I right, Captain?" Raising her eyes to Frederick, she arched her brows.
"Yes . . . yes of course," Frederick nodded casually.
Louisa looked up to her husband who nodded particularly to her, she too nodded and with that, Frederick took his wife in his arms and began up the stairs.
"I'm afraid we have taken your old room for the nursery . . . I have put you two in the smaller to the left . . . the door is open," Catherine called. "Everything is ready, I shall be up directly.
Edward had hung back, watching as his wife had taken charge of things. Coming forward to stand next to her, he said, "Such an exciting entrance! Leave it to my gallant brother to be so dramatic." They both watched as the couple disappeared around the corner of the hallway.
"Oh, you! She is ill. Just be grateful it was her and not me! Else, you'd be the one struggling up the stairs! Now that would be dramatic . . . in it's own way," she gave him a sidelong glance.
Edward continued to look up the stairs, endeavoring to picture such a thing. "Mmm, he did not struggle one bit! And . . . dramatic is not exactly the word I would use for an attempt to carry you, my dear. Actually, pathetic comes more to my mind."
Shooting him a look if mischief, she quickly pinching him on the arm. Then gathering her skirts, she started up the stairs, "Would it be more my weight? Or your decrepitude?" Before he could retort, she continued, "Go in the study and prepare a hero's reward for your brother . . . I think I shall be shooing him away to you soon." Catherine knew that no matter what Louisa's complaint, she would need to be abed and a husband would be no use in getting her there.
Rubbing his arm and feeling grateful for worsted wool, the Rector watched her top the stairs. "All right, he'll need something to restore him," Edward called. " . . . but not nearly what I would evidently, weakling that I am!" he teazingly muttered. As he walked to the study, he realised that this was the second time that she had alluded to his age. Though this was quite indirect . . . and in jest . . . he hoped.
Catherine entered the room just in time to see Frederick's back from behind the screened area for dressing. He was helping Louisa sit back from the chamber pot. She went to the bedside table and poured a glass of water and took it to Louisa. "Here, you poor dear. Take a sip and rinse your mouth. That's our girl," she said, kneeling beside them, resting her hand on Louisa's shoulder.
Taking a handkerchief from his pocket, Frederick gently dabbed at his wife's mouth and said, "Thank you, Catherine. She has had a headache all day, but didn't tell me until just a while ago. She gets them now and again," glancing toward the pot, "pretty badly from what I now see."
"Well, come dear, to bed for you." Helping Louisa to her feet, Catherine said, "I shall get her into bed." Looking to Frederick, "You go on downstairs, Edward will have something fortifying . . . you are a bit pale yourself. Go on, I can manage her." Louisa leaning into Catherine caused them both to stumble.
Catching hold of his wife, Frederick steadied her. "This'll not do . . . I'll at least get her to the bed," he said, carrying her easily and laying her down. Straightening, he looked at her pale face, it had grown paler yet and he was beginning to worry.
Catherine came from behind him and tapped him on the shoulder, "Be gone, Frederick! There is nothing left for you to do . . . go . . . go!"
"But she looks terrible . . .are you certain that she is not very ill?"
Catherine glanced at Louisa and then to Frederick, "I dare say that she is very ill," taking him by the arm, she moved him to the door, "but you are not a doctor and so are of no use to her . . . or me . . . so be gone!" She said this while giving him a gentle, but decided shove out the door.
Were it another woman treating the Captain in such a presumptuous manner, he would have taken great offense, but since it was Catherine he would gladly bear it. He took great comfort in her unperturbed manner, it proved that she was not worried, but neither did she care for his hovering about. "She'll be fine. You can come and see her in a bit. Good bye." And with a smile, she closed the door on the Captain.
Frederick stood nose to nose with the door for a moment. Grimacing, he turned and went down to his brother.
As the Captain came through the entryway, he saw that Trimble and his boy had brought in their trunks. Looking about, he did not see his satchel. Going to the study, he called, "Edward! Did the man bring my satchel to you?" Entering the door, he nearly ran into his brother bearing the case.
"Slow down, here it is. The fellow said he'd wait for you out in the coach . . .though he did seem to be anxious to be off." Handing the case to his brother, he followed him back into the study. "Are you still banking yourself out of that thing?"
Setting it on the desk, Frederick opened the satchel and counted out what he needed to pay off Mr. Trimble and give him a generous bonus. When his brother had left the room, Edward stood trying not to look inside, but overcome by curiosity, he glanced in and was astonished.
He knew that Frederick had carried a great deal of his last pay out with him. The excuse being he did not wish to send everything to his London bank, as then, it was not easily got to. And, as he had no permanent home and was not certain when he might ever have one, he wished his capital within easy reach. "It's over nine thousand now, Musgrove gave me part of the settlement in gold! Who keeps gold in these times? So, now I have that to pack about as well!" the voice of his brother said.
Looking guiltily at Frederick, Edward sputtered, "S-sorry. I haven't seen so much money all in one place for quite some time! And you're so tidy about it . . . all those nice sailcloth packets . . . ah, and the little bags," he said, tearing away his gaze. Considering his own money worries, Edward was having a difficult time sympathising with his brother. "Mmm . . . I'm still surprised that you've not been knocked on the head and all of it stolen."
Frederick came to the desk and rearranging things, closed the case. "May I stow it here? I don't want Louisa finding this . . . she'd most likely say the same thing you do. And as for the other, it is not generally the first topic of conversation I chuze when engaging a stranger, you know."
"Why didn't you bank it in Plymouth? You were there for a few days."
"I had no guarantee that I would be receiving orders, and by the time I had talked with the Admiral, I had to be off immediately to Lyme. I shall have time before leaving, I promise." He patted Edward's arm. His brother had only found out about the money days before Frederick had left the month previous. It had not been comfortable then, and he was sorry that his brother had to know now.
Deciding to lighten the tone by a change of subject, Frederick said, "Your wife is rather dictatorial, Brother -- she tossed me out." Looking around, he saw that everything was as he remembered it. Then he thought how absurd the observation. He had only been gone just over a fortnight . . . of course it was the same comfortable place! And this cold afternoon, the high fire and two glasses sitting on the small table between the wing chairs facing the hearth made Edward's haven more inviting than usual.
Edward propelled Frederick to a chair while saying, "Oh, that is merely her way of being friendly . . . glad to have you back and all. She'll stop being so genteel . . . when the excitement of your return has waned." Sitting in his own seat, Edward took one of the glasses and handed it to Frederick. "You needn't worry, your wife is in good hands, Catherine is a wonderful nurse. Though, she'll just not be gainsaid by the patient's mate . . . no matter what his rank might be." Taking a drink, he motioned for Frederick to do the same. "This is actually the best possible of arrivals." Edward looked off into the fire, awaiting his brother's inevitable question.
The Captain glanced at his brother. Knowing that Edward would have some peculiar point to make, he decided to ask and have done with it. "And why, may I ask, is my wife's being ill make this the best of arrivals?"
After another drink, he said, "You know how it is, when people come to visit, there is the obligatory three-quarter-of-an-hour conversation on the trip, roads, dreadful food . . . all the usual. When that is exhausted, the visitors might just as well leave again as all the interesting topics have been spent. With this, we are all spared. Catherine is caring for Mrs. Wentworth, you and I are enjoying a quiet drink and then at table tonight we will have something to converse on, and not have look at one another as if we were a tree full of owls."
Closing his eyes, Frederick shook his head. Leave it to Edward to give place to such an . . . unconventional thought. All he could think to say was, "I am certain that my wife will be pleased that she has spared you the distress that a boring supper might constitute." Finishing his glass, he set it on the table.
Edward's soon joined it and the Rector said, "Well . . . she's obviously a good girl, being so thoughtful and all." The brothers looked at one another and smiled, "It's good to have you home. And don't worry about your wife . . . Catherine'll have her up and about in no time."
"If she is not better by morning, I shall fetch Dr. Abernathy to tend her . . . though, would that be right, he being a cousin and all?" Frederick wondered out loud.
"Ah, yes . . . I'd forgotten our little . . . discovery. I'm not certain how that would work . . . up to them I suppose. He has not been here since that day that the Junkins were introduced."
"Too embarrassed, eh?"
"No . . .no! Too busy! We have had a bit of fever come through. The past two weeks have been very active for him . . . and I was gone . . . I came back to Catherine abed. But thankfully, one had nothing to do with the other." He took the glasses and filled them. "She is better now . . . she did too many things round the house whilst I was racketing about the countryside insinuating myself where I did not belong!" Edward glanced at Frederick as he handed back the glass. Looking away, he took a drink and stared at the fire.
"Well . . . for what it may be worth, I am very happy that you insinuated yourself. I did need you . . . things would have been unbearable had you not come." He raised his glass a little in a quiet salute.
Frederick stood in the doorway looking at his wife. Just a few candles lit the room and there was nothing to see except Louisa's form in the bed. Nestled under the blankets, all he could see of her was her hand. It looked to be floating by the side of the bed.
"How is she?" a soft voice asked.
Frederick jumped as Catherine had come up silently behind him. "Oh! . . . uh, I really cannot tell, I think she is still sleeping though. Should I wake her? Do you think she will wish to eat?"
Looking into the room around him, Catherine smiled, "I have no idea. When did she eat last?"
"This afternoon, we stopped to bait the horses and we took a little something, but she ate very little."
Laying her hand upon his arm, she looked back to him and said, "Then leave her. She'll awaken when she is ready. As for you, I shall go down and prepare a tray for you gentlemen. I will allow the two of you to eat in the study . . . a special treat."
He smiled down at her, as he recalled his last meal in the study . . . Edward had told Frederick of his past and the fear that had engulfed him for years. That night, his brother had also told him that he and Catherine were expecting a child in the summer. This news had angered Frederick, and for the first time, jealousy toward Edward had reared its head. At first light, Frederick had gone riding and in his mind had declared it impossible for him to love Louisa Musgrove. And now, here he stood, watching her sleep, concerned for her health. Time makes many changes, he thought.
"Frederick . . . are you all right?" Catherine tugged gently at his sleeve.
"Oh, yes . . . and thank you for taking care of Louisa."
"She's a good girl. I like her already." Giving his arm a light pat as she moved away, she said, "Come down when you are ready. The tray will be in the study."
He watched her go down the hall. He was glad he had come back here. Catherine had taken their unorthodox arrival with her customary grace, and he knew that she would do her utmost to make Louisa feel welcome. Turning his attention back to her, he walked quietly into the room and sat down by the bed. He touched her hand, hoping she would awaken, but nothing happened.
After lighting another candle or two, Frederick again touched her hand. This time, he ran his finger across her palm. Instinctively, she took hold of it. Turning his hand, he was able to cradle hers in the palm of his. He was struck with the difference. His finger was as long as the whole of hers wide. It reminded him of little Ellie Harville and how when she was just years old, she would grasp his fingers. Louisa's hold was nearly as weak.
Keeping a hold of her hand, he began pulling the covers back. When he had gotten them laid by, he gently pushed aside some loose whisps of hair. He studied her a bit. Even in sleep, he could see the fatigue on her youthful face. It would seem that the youngest is not always the strongest, he thought. As he continued to straighten and toy with her hair, occasionally stroking her cheek, Frederick began to think how loving this girl would not be the most difficult thing in the world.
Just then, Louisa began to moan and stretch. Watching her eyes flutter open, he knew with the new locale, the room being dim from the candlelight, she would be more confused than the usual, and so said softly, "It is Frederick. We are in Shropshire." He could see that she had no comprehension of him or what he said. Waiting for a moment, the wan smile made him know that she was truly awake.
"So, there is a human creature under all this! I had my doubts. I came in and found you burrowed like a hedgepig! I pulled back the blankets and what do you think I found?"
Louisa shook her head.
"I was shocked to find you had got a replacement for me--a new tiemate!" With his free hand, he gave the braid a slight tug.
Louisa smiled barely and softly said, "No . . . not a new one. Just someone to help until the old one returns. Have you eaten?"
"No . . . not yet. Are you hungry? . . . may I have something sent up?"
"No," she replied, "I cannot eat yet. My memory fails just now and I cannot remember you eating when the horses were baited."
The coverlet had slid from her shoulders. Gently disengaging his hand, he stood to straighten the bedclothes. As he did so, the Captain replied, "I ate very well, it was you who took almost nothing. I shall have something when I have done my duty." He smoothed the blankets and retook his seat.
"Your duty?" she asked, frowning.
"Yes . . . my duty as a captain. Though we are not on board ship, you are somewhat my . . . crew, and," taking her hand again, "being as you are laid up in the sick berth, I am obligated to give you a three minute visit daily . . . tradition of the sea you know."
Enjoying the fact that he held her hand, she grasped it tighter. "Is this also a tradition of the sea? If so, I am much taken with your traditions."
Squeezing her hand back, he chuckled, "No . . . this is most definitely not a tradition I carry out on board! Though with you . . . it is a pleasure. I take it your head is better?"
"Yes, a little . . . well . . . no, not really . . . at least it is dark . . . even a dreary sun makes it so much worse . . . candles are better." Changing the subject, she continued weakly, "Your sister Catherine is very good. So kind. She put me in her thickest nightdress and wrapped me in her softest shawl . . . I had gone so cold."
Louisa closed her eyes. She was growing tired from talking and her head was again throbbing. But more, she savoured his attentions to her. He could have left her nursing to his sister-in-law, but he himself was there in her sickroom. Ignoring the fact that she must look dreadful, she opened her eyes and prepared to engage him, as long as her wearied mind and achy head would allow.
"I only wish," Louisa continued, "that her first words to me had not, by necessity, been a sort of a scolding. And that her second sight . . . me over the . . . you know." Again she closed her eyes, for now it came clear to her remembrance that not only Mrs. Wentworth had witnessed her mortification of being physically ill, but her husband as well.
At the mention of the occasion, Frederick smiled and chuckled a little to himself. Their entrance had been . . . irregular to say the least. Looking closely, he noticed that she had not only closed her eyes, but there was no smile. Even by the candlelight he could distinguish a spot of colour rising on her cheeks. Good lord! She's embarrassed by it! Feel the way gently on this one, Captain! The rocks are jagged here, he warned himself.
"Well, for my part . . . aside from . . . you know, I relished playing the dashing hero . . . bearing the fair mai . . .lady up the winding stairway!" Hoping she'd not heard his near slip, he continued, "Though, I think myself more like one of those nonsensical heros in those poor fisted gothics I hear tell of. That being the case, I might be excused for nearly taking us both down on that last stair!" He looked for a sign of bemusement. He was heartened when he saw a thin smile rising on her lips.
"You did no such thing! I do remember that much." Opening her eyes, she said slowly, "Its just that a gir . . . a lady doesn't like to be remembered that way . . . you know."
Reaching up to brush back the loose strands of hair, he smiled and told her, "Firstly, have no worries about my sensibilities being offended by such things . . . after years at sea, they're nearly unoffendable. And . . .while you do not wish to be remembered in that way . . . I am mortified to think that you carry the image of me sitting on that rickety stool, hand clapped to my nose! . . . and your mother--spoon in hand, dosing me with the Wicked Elixir of Uppercross!" Pleased to see a more genuine smile come to her, he went on, "I think there to be something patently immoral about you having such a thing to hold over me, rather like the Sword of Damocles! After all . . . I am a man of some rank and distinction."
In the dim of the candles, Louisa could see that he held himself in an affected pose, mocking his own last statement. Ordinarily, she would have laughed herself silly at his farce, but her head and fatigue would not allow for it. Aside from the smile, all she could manage was the counter, "Evil."
"Evil?! Me? . . . evil?" Frederick was uneasy, perhaps Louisa's illness was giving her an odd sort of boldness to speak her mind.
Taking a long blink, she reopened her eyes and mumbled, "No . . . I mean it is the Evil Elixir of Uppercross, not wicked."
"Oh . . . yea, yea. Evil, wicked . . . either one, it works remarkably well . . . though I would say that it must be the first water of H-ll itself!" It surprised him how cheered he was to hear her weak laughter. He had been more concerned than he had reckoned.
Frederick took the opportunity of their laughter to again smooth the coverlet. The evening before had softened him. Between the desire they had both displayed and his own determination to turn towards her, he was now beginning to have the rightful feelings of a man to his wife.
"I feel ridiculous . . . not able to present myself downstairs because of this headache. Your family will think me rude, or worse, invalidish."
"My family are sensible people. Catherine will not mind waiting a day to know you better and my brother is somewhat rude himself, he'll not mind in the least if you snub him." He gave her a wry smile as he settled the bedclothes about her.
"Your brother is not rude at all! I am anxious to be acquainted with them both, but the idea of sleeping is so appealing just now." She was doing her best to keep her eyes open, but the battle was being lost.
Finally, disengaging his hand, he placed hers under the covers. "You should sleep now. I shall check on you later."
Opening her eyes a tiny bit, she asked, "When will you come to bed?"
Again he chuckled. "Not any time soon . . . and besides, you will never know it . . . Catherine has relegated me to the nursery! I am to sleep in there until you are better. Her words were, 'The poor girl does not need you bouncing her about as you lumber in and out, bothering her rest!' And she's right. So . . . I shall make due with a narrow cot amongst the paint and plaster buckets." The nursery was still being made ready for its coming occupant.
Louisa sighed, "I am sorry for that . . . I don't mean to be a bother. I had hoped that the wedding being over, that these would end . . . I suppose I hoped in vain."
Rising, he bent and kissed her cheek. "You are not a bother, and the journey was no doubt the cause of the headache. You have done nothing wrong. Sleep. That will do more good than anything else . . .. I shall see you in the morning . . . not before."
"Thank you for the visit . . . Captain."
"Good night . . . Crew."
Later in the evening, Edward sat reading at his desk, occasionally making notes, but generally absorbed in the text. Frederick had taken down a book, but spent little time reading. As Catherine watched, he would doze a bit and then awaken and put himself back to the task at hand. She was mending, but mostly enjoying the quiet of the evening and feel of having family close by and warm on such a cold night.
Frederick put down the book and looked at his watch. Snapping it shut, he rose and excused himself to see to his wife.
After he had left the room and his footsteps were heard on the stairs, Catherine looked over to Edward and casually asked, "Would this be his . . . third trip upstairs?"
Edward did not look up, but a smile crept across his face. "It would be the fourth by my count. He trotted up once when you were in the kitchen." Glancing at his wife, he shook his head as he chuckled.
"Oh, yes. I had forgotten. I saw him up there when I went to fetch something. He was watching her sleep . . . he looked the perfect mooncalf!" Leaning forward, Catherine asked, "Do you think him in love with her?"
Looking toward the ceiling, Edward shook his head, "No . . . maybe smitten, but not in love . . .not yet. Though, I do think the pathway to it runs up our staircase. I say 'no' because I have not seen the stupid grin that afflicts men in love." The Rector laid down his pen, and leaned back to face his wife.
"Stupid grin? I have never noticed such a thing."
"It is a particular affliction of the male sex that comes when the heart is captured by a woman," he rose as he spoke and seated himself next to her. Laying his arm across the back of the sofa, he continued, "I shall have to ask Abernathy, but I think there is a muscular connection between the heart and the lips that is somehow tightened when a man falls in love." Grasping his cheeks, he pulled them into a comic face. "And then the poor fellow is marked for all to see. Those passing on the streets point and remark, 'Look! . . . that poor blighter must be in love!' It is sad to see actually," he said shaking his head in a mournful way.
Catherine lightly poked his ribs, "You . . . you had no such smile. I mostly saw a pale fellow who looked as though he was about to breathe his last!"
Edward scowled, "Is that truly what I looked like?"
Catherine smiled, "No, you did have that stupid grin . . . it was rather embarrassing now that I remember. I am gratified to know now what it was about." She grew quiet and looked closely at him. "Why is it that I don't see it anymore?" She knew her husband loved her, but was curious as to what his explanation would be.
"I don't grin in that asinine fashion any longer because . . . because I don't fear you any longer." Seeing her puzzled expression, he put his arm around her and drew her close, "It is pure, cold fear that makes a man smile like that . . . will she? . . . won't she?" His voice grew low and serious, "When I first knew that I loved you, I also knew if there was one person in the world who could wound me mortally without ever laying a hand -- it was you. Remember? I had quite a lot to fear, and you held it all." Kissing her hair, he sat for a moment remembering the days before they married.
He had laid his horrific past open to her and she had sent him away so that she could consider things. She had loved him dearly, but in his younger days, he had been a part of the slave trade in Barbadoes and when he had told her, she had come close to breaking with him completely. It had been a torture for them both and she had eventually come to realise that she must put his past aside as surely as he had. And now the trial which had almost torn them apart, was the foundation for their life together. They had been fortunate to learn, early on, that forgiveness was a powerful bond, one which would hold them together, when no other could.
When Frederick had awakened, he understood, a little, how his wife felt each morning. Blinking, he looked about and recognised nothing. The room smelled of paint and plaster, while buckets stood around the room waiting to be employed.
Stretching, he bashed his hands against the headboard. It was this which reminded him the bed was too short and he had been cramped all night. His muscles cried to be relieved. There were no curtains on the windows and the sun was full in his eyes. Soon after he rose, a fog moved in and that was no longer a concern.
After dressing, he looked in on Louisa, who evidently slept peacefully. He was unable to see her as she had burrowed under the blankets just as she had the previous night. He tended the fire in her room and went downstairs. At breakfast, Edward asked if he would care to ride with him while he did some errands for his wife and paid a call to the Junkins.
Frederick hesitated. He was not anxious to meet up with Joshua Junkins again. This man had caused the Captain to open his heart concerning the feelings he had carried for Anne Elliot, and he did not relish answering the questions his friend would pose having to do with Louisa. But the Junkins were to be invited to a dinner party Sunday after church, and so there would be no escaping his questions for long.
Along with the Junkins, Catherine's brother David Keye and his wife Lucy were coming to dinner and since Lucy's niece, Janet was visiting, she was to be brought along. Dr Michael Abernathy had been invited to even out the table.
The visit with the Junkins was short as the couple was putting the finishing touches on the bedroom for their serving girl, Mary. Though busy, they took time to sit and converse a bit about the Captain's trip and the dinner the next day.
Before their leave taking, Mrs Junkins loaded the Rector with jars of preserved spice peaches, cranberry relishes, a bag of specially milled corn and several twists of spices just for the occasion.
The foods had been pressed upon the Wentworth's as a 'thank-you' for all the efforts put forth in bringing the Junkins' together. It had been under the superintendence of the Rector and Mrs Wentworth that the couple had been brought face to face after their clandestine correspondence. While their part in the introduction had been done with the greatest of pleasure and needed no repayment, the Rector knew that his wife would enjoy having some special fare to enliven their rather unremarkable table.
Having left with the Junkins' promise of a surprise at the next day's party, the brothers proceeded to the poulterer for three hares and five ducks. They had been ordered a week previous and were to be dressed and ready. They were not.
Thinking that it would have been simpler had he hunted and shot the game himself, the Rector's mind was changed after standing for three-quarters of an hour as Mr Estes cleaned and butchered the animals. He sighed, remembering how much he hated this part of hunting. Not that he was squeamish about such bloody matters, but Edward was not talented with knives and had more than once laid open his palm trying to make an awkward cut. Besides, Mr Estes was a fount of local 'intelligence.'
In just forty-five minutes, the Rector learned of three new babies coming into the world, one taking a more 'natural' route, Mr Estes said with a significant look. He also told how his sister-in-law -- the widow of his long dead brother -- and housekeeper to Bramford Hall, had told him that a woman had appeared at the Hall and was given free rein just as though she were the mistress or some such. Another significant look told Edward there was much more to this tale.
Knowing that he had listened to more than enough and having paid for the game and bidden Mr Estes a good day, he left the shop. Having carefully packing the ducks and hares with the Junkins' gifts, Edward climbed up and urged Standish on.
After a while of silence, Edward said, "I know that I decried my own prying into your affairs, but was wondering what you and Joshua were so keen on when I returned from the Junkins larder?"
"Oh," Frederick chuckled. "not much, really. When I was here earlier, I had told Joshua about Anne. Mrs Junkins had brought the news of my wedding and he merely wished to know that she had heard the bride's name correctly. His manner was pregnant with questions and so I had to explain about Louisa . . . that's all."
"That's all? And he had nothing to say? He is not usually without some wisdom."
"True, but all he said was that he wished us joy of our marriage and that he looked very much forward to meeting her Sunday. Perhaps I was spared any rebuke since you and Mrs Junkins returned almost immediately."
"I doubt it. He likes you very much . . . I can't see him blasting you too badly . . . especially if you are happy."
Both men fell silent. Frederick contemplated happiness and how the definition of it seemed to be changing for him. Edward also contemplated happiness and how, for him, it would come in the form of money. Money enough to satisfy the appetite of Pollard Levant.
Upon hearing the voice, both men looked up. Edward reined the gig to the side of the road. "Whoa, Standish. Steady."
A large farm wagon rumbled toward them, making no effort to give over room to the gig.
Catching the eye of the driver, Edward touched the brim of his hat, and murmured, "Mr Merchin."
Stopping, the driver openly studied the gig and its occupants. The largish man in the wagon replied. "Rector." Without any salute or further discourse, the vehicle passed on.
Frederick took a sidelong look at his brother. The barely civil exchange was quite out of character for Edward. And a lack of an introduction for himself was puzzling. His brother was always mindful of propriety and so the slight was astonishing.
"Walk on, Standish," said Edward in a tight voice.
After a time of silence, Frederick decided to broach the subject of the exchange. "So, who is Mr Merchin that I receive no acknowledgment on either of your parts?"
"Mr Merchin is a tenant of Bramford Hall. A few months ago there was talk of enclosure. Merchin and some others would benefit greatly. When I voiced the opinion that there must be more justice to the smaller cot holders than has been shown in the past," he sighed, "I was roundly set down for being interfering and anti-progress. Several deaths in the family have brought a new head to the house, but the rumours of enclosure are still rife . . . and I am still interfering and anti-progress."
Frederick had not kept abreast of the enclosure movement as it would be impossible to enclose the one area of the world to which he belonged. Though, he knew enough to be concerned. Violence marked many attempts to enclose an estate, and death to parties on either side was not unknown.
"Have you been . . . entreated to speak for those with smaller holdings?"
"No, though it is not unknown that the clergy give them a voice . . . those few who are willing."
"You would, if asked, I take it?"
Edward sighed. If enough money to pay off Levant could not be had, whether he was willing or even asked to speak , would be unimportant.
"Huh? . . . oh, I don't know. I think it my responsibility to help those who cannot speak for themselves, but . . . it is difficult to go against those with power. A clergyman is usually going against his own benefactor, the holder of his living. Unless the living is perpetual, he is sure to lose it when he testifies or just shows public sympathy of an opposing nature. If it were only me . . . but a clergyman is no different from any other man. The idea of losing the means to support my family is as terrifying to me as it is to a cottager." As he said the words, Edward realised that terror was what he felt every moment the situation with Levant went on.
"Besides, nothing can be done until a committee is made and the measurements decreed. By tradition, I should be a part of that, but . . . each Manor is a kingdom unto itself and my views being what they are might preclude me . . . then a petition must be mounted and brought to Parliament. Supporters must go forward. Anyone of opposing views will have chance to speak . . . and not all landowners favour enclosure by any means. Whether I am a part of it all is of no matter. I think Abernathy could be counted on to speak out against Levant if that is what they need . . . he is sympathetic to those who lose out when enclosure takes place . . . and he is not beholden, like I am."
"I can see where you might be reticent to take their part. A man's living is too important to be trifled with."
"Well . . .my living is not so certain as in the past. I can't imagine what I will do if . . . " Realising his slip, Edward stared forward and studied the bridle strap which passed through Standish's mane. For the first time since their 'reconciliation,' Edward was regretted the ease he felt with his brother, it had put him off his guard.
"You fear for it?" Frederick had understood quite clearly the whole of his remark.
There was no sense trying to avoid the obvious. "Whoa, Standish." turning to Frederick, he said, "Yes . . . I fear for it, but nothing can be said about it . . . Catherine doesn't know, and I do not wish to burden her further."
Frederick resisted the urge to ask what he meant, what burdens were already in place that this would add to, but he kept silent on the matter. "So what endangers your living? I thought all you need do was be a good fellow and it was yours forever."
Edward smiled, everyone seemed to think thus. "No . . . unless it is given in perpetuity, I serve only at the grace of the holder."
"So why is your living in danger?"
The sound of Standish plodding on was all the noise to be heard for a while. Frederick knew he must give his brother time to decided whether to take him into his confidence. He hoped that their new found affection would allow Edward to confide in him. He wished to be a friend and not the younger brother always in need of guidance.
Edward said nothing. Frederick grew impatient and determined that he would force the issue. "I want to help you. Whatever you need . . . I will do it."
"Mmm-mmm," the Rector chuckled.
"And what, might I ask, do you find so amusing?"
Edward raised his head and breathed deeply, "I have been actively praying for weeks that someone would say those words to me! And now . . . here you are . . . saying them, and I am yet reluctant to confide in you." Turning to face his brother, he said, "Pride is an abominable thing . . . avoid it like the plague, Brother."
Frederick straightened and laughed heartily. "D*mn good piece of advice . . . but a little late for me, don't you think?" He continued to shake his head and laugh.
Edward joined him. "You and I have more in common than one would think! All right . . . I shall unburden myself to you. But I warn you . . . my confidence has a price." He gave his brother a quizzical look.
After explaining the situation with Pollard Levant, he sat quietly. He could not bring himself to outrightly ask for the money.
"And so how much does the living of Crown Hill sell for?"
"The price has never been settled. One meeting, it is one figure, another meeting, another figure. I think it is contingent upon his gaming losses. He is rumoured to be an avid gambler . . . but not a very good one, I think."
"Ah . . . a man with which I have much in common!" Frederick cried. The Captain had taken a turn at the tables once . . . it had wiped him out and then some.
"Yes . . . but I believe that his weakness is horses . . . fewer chances, bigger losses. Yours was . . . ?"
"Cards. Yes, I lost quite a lot because of those 52 beauties. The only game I play now is solitaire. I am not such a bad fellow to owe money," he said with a smirk.
"You're not, eh? Then if I were to borrow . . ."
"I'll not loan you any amount of money."
Edward looked perturbed. Frederick looked back with equal seriousness. "I will only give it as a gift . . . freely given and freely accepted. No repayment allowed."
The Rector looked away. There was a temptation to refuse -- pride again. But, he reasoned, if he had to be indebted to any man, even if it were only in spirit, he would want it to be this brother. "Well . . . if that is the only way that I shall have it . . . I agree to your terms. Thank you."
"You're welcome. I had hoped you might need sage advice . . . a bit of my wisdom, hard learnt in times of trial. Ha ha, and all you needed was my purse."
Edward clapped him sharply on the back, "Perhaps next time I shall need the wisdom of an old salt. Perhaps next time." The two chuckled to themselves and thought their own thoughts as the gig rattled on to home.
Helping his brother had left Frederick's spirits high and upon returning from the ride out, briskly mounted the stairs, intending to pay a very cheerful visit to his wife. As he approached her room, he met Catherine, carrying a meal tray and sporting a vexed expression.
Fearing that Louisa had taken a bad turn, he asked, "Is she worse? She can't eat?"
"Not can't . . . won't," she said with a tinge of frustration. "She is hungry . . .she eyed the tray while she thought I wasn't looking . . . but she claims not to be hungry. I offered to leave it, but she said that it was no use and that I was to take it . . . so's not to waste food. I wonder why she being so particular."
Reaching for the tray, Frederick said, "Let me try. You'd not know it to watch me now, but I myself was a fussy eater once . . . Sophia suffered greatly at my pernickity little hand. But I learnt a thing or two from her about getting 'round such nonsense."
"All right . . . I wish you much success." Catherine whispered as she opened the door to Louisa's room.
"Well . . . Sailor! . . . are you ready for your three minute visit?" Frederick asked pleasantly as he placed the tray the bed table. Dragging the chair next to her side, he sat himself and awaited a response.
Louisa smiled brightly as he entered, but her countenance changed when she looked and recognised that he had brought back the selfsame tray Catherine had just taken out. On it were a bowl of soup, bread and butter. Two small apples, a dish of cheese and what looked to be a bite of cake. To drink, weak wine and a cup of tea. Mrs Wentworth has enlisted his aid . . . well, I'll not eat for him either, she thought.
While she was indeed hungry, her stomach was still queazy and she had no desire to repeat her embarrassment at the chamber pot a second time. "Yes . . . I have been waiting anxiously for it . . . but I think I must tell you . . . I've done nothing for days, and don't feel the need to eat. Even if you bring it to me."
Seeing that he would have to use a bit more art than he had planned, the Captain proceeded. "There is a reason to eat . . . you'll never get better if you don't. But, um . . .this is not for you anyway."
"Oh!" she was surprised by this. "I would have thought that you ate some time ago." But she was still suspicious.
"Oh, I did, but Edward and I took a ride out and I'm hungry again. I met Catherine in the hallway and rather than she take this back down and me wait until supper, I decided to relieve her of it. There is no sense wasting it . . . if you are certain that you don't care for it." He sat forward in the chair and gestured to the tray, giving her a last chance to lay a claim.
It was not unknown that he would do this sort of thing. He had done it at the Blushing Maiden when he had eaten her plate of chops and potatoes. Perhaps there was no conspiracy. "No, you are welcome to it . . . as I said, I've done nothing of late."
"Well then, I shall." At that, he picked up the bowl and began blowing to cool the soup. Taking a bite, he swallowed and asked, "How is your headache?"
"A little better. It still throbs now and again, though," she said, beginning to sit up. Raising the covers, she reached under to find her shawl. Unable to find it as she felt around, she lifted the blankets and reached further and further, soon she was to the foot. In the doing of this, she became a large lump.
Amused, he set aside the bowl to rise and hold the blankets. Looking under, Frederick asked, "What on earth are you doing? You look like a mole . . . !"
"Or a hedgepig! she called from the foot of the bed. Coming out from underneath the covers, she pulled out the shawl. "Ah . . . I have it!"
Laying the blankets in her lap, he took the shawl from her and settled it about her shoulders. "A little like a hedgepig, though, I don't think they burrow." Sitting again, he took up the bowl and said, "Will you taste this? I hate to say, but I think Mrs Graham is a bit dotty when it comes to spicing things . . . here, have a taste." He held out a spoonful for her to try.
The soup was wonderful and Louisa knew immediately what he was doing. Sarah, the nurserymaid, had used the same ploy with Henrietta when the girl would not eat. Such games were never necessary with Louisa, until now. Hiding her suspicion, she said, "I think it is wonderful. Mrs Graham seems to know her way about the soup."
Taking back the spoon, Frederick took another bite and made a face. "I taste something off. Pepper perhaps."
"Yes, I detest the stuff . . . you would be surprised how many dishes have it as a matter of course. That's it, I'm certain . . . pepper. Be a good wife and finish this? I made such a to-do about being hungry that if I take it back . . . uneaten . . . well, you can see how I'll be in the soup, as it were?" Holding out the bowl and spoon, he looked into her eyes. They both knew this was a game . . . the Captain won.
"Certainly . . . it wouldn't do to have you and the mistress of the house on the outs, now would it?" She took the bowl from him and began to eat.
Sitting quietly for a moment, he reached into his pocket and took out a clasp knife. Taking the plate on which the apples had been placed, he set them on the edge of the bed. Taking one of the apples, he began to peel it. "I suppose it sounded a bit insulting yesterday . . . calling you a hedgepig, did it not?"
"A little. I'm not used to being called such a thing," she said with a bit of surprise. Not expecting to be addressed, she dribbled a bit and he handed her the napkin.
"How can you stand to burrow beneath the blankets that way? I've never seen anyone do such a thing."
"I abominate the cold. Once I go cold, it takes so long to warm again . . . I suppose it has to do with that . . . and I know of no one else who does such a thing . . . it is my one . . . peculiarity."
He laughed lightly, "Yes, peculiarity is the right word I expect. It looked a bit odd . . . large lumps under the covers and a hand floating by the bedside. A lovely hand, I might add." He busied himself with the apple.
Again she was surprised. What he had said pleased her. Resting the spoon in the bowl, she held her hand up and looked at it. All she saw was a leaner version of her mother's hand. They were square, the fingers a bit thick. They were not the elegant hands of her sister, not the hands so skilled with the pianoforte and harp. No, they were very much the hands of a farmer's daughter. "You see something more in them than I," she said simply as she went back to the soup.
"I see good strong hands. Small, but gentle. I think those hands are lovely." Placing a long, thin piece of the peel on the plate, Frederick continued with the knife, "And as for the hedgepig remark, take no offense. I am very fond of the little creatures."
"You are?" Louisa was fascinated by the notion of this man . . . a man of the sea, being in the least concerned with the likes of walking pincushions.
He said, looking around surreptitiously, "You cannot tell a living soul what I am about to say . . . least of all my brother." His expression changed little as he stayed to peeling the apple.
Louisa was intrigued as to why anything he might have to say about hedgepigs must be kept from the Rector. "I promise," she said, finishing the soup.
Taking the bowl, he lay the final strand of peel on the plate. Frederick began to methodically cut and core the fruit. "When I was very young, I noticed that we had a family of hedgepigs in the small garden behind the house . . . they lived under some boxwoods. As I said, I noticed them when I was young and not terribly kind . . . I threw rocks, poked them with sticks . . . the typical young boys' deviltries . . . anywise, as the years went by, I grew kinder and each spring brought new babies and that little family became somewhat an . . . an haven. When things in the house were . . . unpleasant, I could escape out in the evening and watch them. A small, but welcome diversion." Frederick grew quiet as he had again mentioned his childhood. While telling her about the pigs, he would take a piece of apple for himself and casually hand her one. She seemed to take no notice as she listened.
"And so . . . when I finally left home for good . . . I found myself missing those silly pigs nearly as much as my brother! So . . . do you see why he must never be told?" Taking a drink of the wine, he handed her the glass.
Accepting it, she breathed, "Certainly! He might be very hurt to know that he was missed only a little more than the denizens of the boxwoods!"
Frederick smiled slyly, "It is not his hurt feelings I fear! It is the teazing and harassing I wish to avoid!" The apple being finished, he took up the knife, wiping down the blade, he closed it and replaced it in his pocket. Taking the bowl, which contained the cheese, he took a cube and said, "Now, Catherine says that this is Stilton and I say it is Gloucester . . . take a taste and tell me if I am right." She took the cube and ate it, she had no idea and told him so. "Well, try another . . ." Taking a cube for himself, he handed her one more. "We usually have Gloucester when we are first victulled, but there are times when we can only get Cheshire. And you must eat it quickly, else you'll have a diseased ship soon, the smell will carry infection all over, you know . . . so, which is it?"
"I haven't an idea which. Either one, it is very good." She took another cube from the dish herself. He took the last and said, "It matters not . . . I was merely curious if you could tell. Catherine is most likely right. After all . . . she bought it."
Taking the plate with the cake, he offered her a bite.
Shaking her head in refusal, Louisa leant back and pulled the shawl tightly around her. In an exaggerated puffing of her cheeks, she exhaled and exclaimed, "I am stuffed. Not that that should surprise you!"
Swallowing the last bite of cake, with a look of mixed innocence and surprise, he cried, "Me? Of course I am surprised . . . you're not hungry, remember?"
"Your ploy worked . . . I have eaten. I am not such a child to be fooled so easily."
He opened his mouth to object, but her smile said that the jig was up and it was senseless to protest. "Ah, you have me. Catherine obviously has no finicky eaters in her family, else she would have had no trouble getting all this down you."
"Perhaps not . . . she treated me like I had sense . . . I think you proved that I was being . . . pettish. I didn't want to . . . you know," she whispered, pointing toward the screen.
Looking to the screen, he nodded and said, "Ah . . . we'll have none of that again, eh?"
"No, I feel fine . . . oh, my head still aches, and I felt a bit nauseous, but all in all, I am recovering."
"Well, shall I entertain you with a bit of extraneous knowledge?" He asked as he put some order to the tray.
"All right, I would be glad to know such a thing."
Turning, he crossed his arms and said with mock enthusiasm, "Did you know that the words nautical and nausea come from the same Greek word for ship? . . . naus Now, ain't that appropriate? Ships cause more nausea than anything else I know!"
Louisa sat chuckling. It was such a ridiculous thing to be telling her, but it was funny . . . "And how might you know such an extraneous thing?"
"Benwick. We had a mid . . . a midshipman, that couldn't keep a morsel down . . . the first two weeks were purgatory for him . . . and us! Every time he came up top, he fed the fish and Benwick came up with some new trifle about . . . you know." With a nod of his head, he indicated the screen.
Before Louisa could think of an appropriate reply, a clock in another room struck the hour. Thankful that a new subject had introduced itself, she said, "I would say that our three minutes are long passed . . . will the extra time come from my next visit?"
The Captain made a face as though in thought. Smiling, he said, "Nah . . . I think I shall free myself from this tradition and come as often as I care to . . . oftener if you'll allow."
"I would like that. Though, I am hoping to be up tomorrow."
"Well, I hope so too . . . that bed in the nursery is too narrow and too short. Heaven only knows where they will find a nurserymaid small enough to sleep in it!"
Louisa began to laugh. The only nurserymaid she had ever known was Sarah and she was of a most comfortable size. "So . . . you do not think you would fit the position?" She smiled at him thinking herself very clever.
Seeing her game, he rose to the bait. "No . . . I do not think that I would ever measure up to such a challenge."
With a laugh, Louisa said, "I surrender! In a war of words, I shall never best you."
As he rose to gather the tray, he said, "Ah, I would not be so certain of that! There may come a day when you quite out do me." Standing a moment, he picked at the blankets and brushed her cheek. "I shall come back up in a bit. You need to rest, put some colour back in those cheeks."
"I will" she said softly. A flush of colour came, but it was from something more pleasing than robust health.
Seeing her response, he smiled and gave her braid a gentle tug, "Perhaps I can convince that scampish tie-mate of yours to come up and fix your hair."
Reaching up and laying her hand over his, Louisa said, "He's not a scamp . . . he's just occupied with other things at present. He'll be back . . . when the time is right." Giving him a quick kiss, she let his hand go. "Now . . . you have a tray to return to the . . . galley.
"You're too patient with that rapscallion, you know. He quite takes advantage."
"Not as much as he thinks."
"Well, you're right . . . I have a tray to return. Rest well."
"Aye . . . sir."
Continued in Part 5
© 2000 Copyright held by author