Love Suffers Long and Is Kind, Volume II
Chapter 13, Part 1
For Janet Louise,
who showed me
by precept and example
how to choose a most excellent husband.
"Happy Birthday, Mom!"
What's Love Got To Do With It?
Uppercross Cottage, early Friday morning ...
"Mr Charles!" The tapping on the bedchamber door persisted, intruding into the sleeper's dreamy haze. Charles Musgrove groaned to hear his name and opened his aching eyes as far as he dared.
"Mr Charles, sir." Dodson's voice came through the door. "Mr Charles, it is seven o"clock." The knocking resumed.
'seven o"clock," he repeated, under his breath. "Exeter. Thank you, Dodson," he called. He forced himself to sit up. "Exeter, yes. Going to Exeter."
But waking up proved to be unusually difficult on this particular day. His head swam, his throat felt as if it were on fire. Charles Musgrove stumbled to the door and, with difficulty, pulled it open a crack.
'dodson!" It took several attempts to call out loudly enough to catch the housekeeper's attention. When at last he was able to speak, his words came out in a rasping whisper. 'tell Coney not to bring the gig 'til ten, at the earliest."
'sir?" Dodson's homely face showed concern. Charles did not want to answer any of her questions. He quickly closed the door and shakily made his way back to the bed.
'not sick. Feel fine." A glass of water sat on the small table beside his bed; perhaps this was what he needed. With great effort, he picked up the glass.
"Good lord," he muttered, as he spilt some. "Weak as a cat." When he finished, he replaced it and lay back down. It was surprising how good it felt to rest quietly this way. After a few minutes, Charles began to reproach himself. He must make the trip to Exeter today. The weather had been fine for the past week, traveling conditions were excellent. And besides, he had promised to take along his eldest son.
"Mustn't disappoint Little Charles." Charles grimaced weakly as he remembered his son's excitement when he had been asked to come along. Mary had been less enthusiastic about the plan; Charles suspected her resistance was probably born out of envy. "Mary," he muttered, and closed his eyes. His thoughts about his wife were much less charitable.
Either way, he figured he was hung. He had been subjected to her opinions about the danger of making such a journey, alone, with the boy ... and if he backed out now, he was sure to hear the opposite ... how disappointed Little Charles would be, and so on. He knew he would have to deal with either response by assuming a cold and lofty attitude, but he feared the energy required for such a display might be beyond him today.
'not sick. Just tired." He rubbed his eyes as he thought about her. He had to admit, Mary had been much more cooperative since Louisa's wedding. But her cooperation had come at a price, and Charles Musgrove was growing tired of playing the role of 'Lord of the Manor" in his dealings with her. He was heartily sorry he had ever tried to imitate Benwick's commanding reprimand, for he had meant it as a joke on Mary, and nothing more. It went against his nature to keep up the appearance of being angry and displeased with his wife, even if she did annoy him now and again. It went against his nature to behave in the same manner as his top-lofty father-in-law!
'not sick. Need to sleep." Charles did not want to think about Mary any longer. He would rest a little and then he would get up, dress, and proceed with his plans. This was not the time to succumb to illness, and he would not allow himself to do so ... he intended to master his weaknesses completely ... but not until after he had finished his nap.
Anne Elliot was also awake early this particular Friday morning. At this moment, she was wrapped up in her robe, kneeling before the small fire in her bedchamber. Propped on the hearth was one of her embroidery frames; it held a square of white cloth which she had washed out the night before.
"It is dry, but ..." Anne rubbed the sleep from her eyes and blinked at it in the near-darkness. The fire had burnt low and offered little in the way of light or heat. Carefully she removed the handkerchief from the frame, examined it, and sighed. "It looks ... terrible, even in this light," she muttered. "What am I do do?" She ran her hand over the uneven surface of the cotton fabric. It was clean and there were fewer wrinkles, but it could not be returned to Captain Benwick looking like this, any more than before! And she could not send it to be laundered with the rest of her things without causing comment among the staff!
Anne groaned inwardly. I shall have to think of something soon, for I must send it back to him! It has been nearly a week! She gazed intently at the glowing coals as she thought about what could be done ... and what could not! "And he would have to have such a mannish one!" she murmured, turning her attention back to the square. "If only this did not look so much like a ... "
She stared fixedly at the cloth in her hand and a wry little smile found its way to her lips. An Idea began to occur to her ... a wonderful, impossible Idea! It was quite daring, but--! Anne repeated her words, with a growing sense of wonder. "If this did not look so much like a man's handkerchief, then ... !"
She scrambled to her feet and made her way to the bureau. The top drawer to held a whole a stack of her neatly pressed and folded hankys -- frilly, feminine ones. "It would not look so man-like if it looked more like one of mine!" She smiled triumphantly as she pulled them out. "And so it shall!"
A soft knock sounded on the door and the housemaid came into the room in order to build up the fire. Anne ignored her. She pulled the heavy curtains back from the window and began to examine the dainty squares she held. Most were edged with lace or ruffles, and were embroidered with pretty floral designs. She bit her lip, nearly laughing outright at such a simple solution! I will alter Captain Benwick's handkerchief to resemble a woman's!
"And it shall not be so very hard, either, she thought. I need my embroidery basket ... and something to attach as a womanish flounce. As soon as the maid left, she took up the basket and began to sort through her collection of supplies. Anne chuckled to herself as she measured Benwick's handkerchief with a piece of crimson thread and began to make her plans.
Well, I shall have to disguise this as a grandmother's, she thought, with a giggle, for no self-respecting young woman would use such a large, utilitarian one! She playfully folded it into a triangle, and held it up. A scarf for the head, in a pinch? Or perhaps ... a fichu? Of course it was not nearly that bad! However, she decided that the ruffle must be 'no-nonsense" in appearance, small and white, perhaps similar to something Lady Russell would own.
As she began to hunt in the basket for her scissors, she considered how she would trim it. There was no time to knit any lace, and she thought it foolish to waste her dwindling pin-money by purchasing it ... and then, all at once, came the answer. Anne blushed at her own temerity; how could she think of doing such a thing? But the idea was practical and economical ... and absolutely perfect! I do have some clothing with such a frill. And most of those ... garments ... do not need it, really, for they are never seen by anyone!
She began to rummage through the contents of her lower bureau drawers. "It need not be new," she murmured, "for I will only be 'borrowing" it for the laundering and then it will be removed. Now where ...? Ah. Here it is. The very thing." She drew out a white cotton underdress; its neckline was trimmed with a pleated picot ruffle. This shift was nearly in perfect condition; Anne disliked wearing it because the ruffled edging irritated her skin. And I have been meaning to ask Elise to remove it! How perfect, she thought, with a smile. I have a ready excuse for my ... alterations! She took up the scissors and immediately began to cut at the stitching which held the ruffle in place. And so it was that before Elise had come in to attend to Anne's dress and hair, the first part of the task had been accomplished.
Anne was absolutely gleeful that morning, so great was her relief at being able to solve her dilemma. And the thought of what she was about to do teazed at her like gurgle of laughter that must be held inside. No one else noticed the spring in her step as she entered the dining room for breakfast, or saw the merry twinkle in her eyes. Elizabeth caught her humming a tune as she stirred her tea, and directed a quelling look. Elizabeth was often grouchy at the breakfast table. Anne bit her lip and smiled down at her plate.
Poor Captain Benwick! she thought, as she buttered her toast. I wonder what he would say if he knew what I am going to do to his poor hanky? Anne laid down the knife. She knew very well what he would say, or rather, what he would do. There was a certain look he had given her, at Uppercross -- above the pages of a book, or from under the brim of his hat -- whenever he had begun to be amused. A smiling sparkle would come into his eyes, before any other expression reached his countenance. And then a dimple would appear on his cheek and his eyebrow would lift ...
"Anne? What are you about? I said, pass the preserves, please!" Elizabeth's annoyed voice broke into her reverie. As Anne handed the glass dish, her sister added this ungracious message: "And Father has asked that you be present in the drawing room this morning, instead of hiding in your bedchamber. He is expecting several important callers, most especially our cousin, Lady Dalrymple. Miss Carteret noticed the last time you were absent; you know how she particularly likes to speak with you." Thus ended Elizabeth's 'conversation" and she lapsed into her customary morning silence.
Anne murmured her acquiescence and coughed into her napkin in an effort to disguise an outburst of the giggles. Now I"m in for it! she thought, and she dabbed at her eyes with the corner of the napkin. For I have no choice but to sew that ruffle from my shift ... onto his ... handkerchief ... right there in the drawing room! Right under their very noses! And unfortunately, the word 'noses" brought on a fresh spasm of laughter. Anne choked, murmured a hasty apology, and fled the room, feigning a coughing fit
She soon recovered her composure and (she hoped) a steady countenance. And within a few minutes of leaving the breakfast table, Anne installed herself in a chair by the drawing room windows, prepared to complete her sewing project and to be pleasant to all callers. Indeed, her relief caused her to be in charity with everyone that morning. Lady Dalrymple came and went, and several of her father's acquaintances. Anne even had a smile and a friendly greeting for her cousin, who came to call unexpectedly.
She listened with amused gravity to her father's rambling critique of the colourful neckcloth Mr. Elliot was wearing. Sir Walter was not certain it was quite the thing for a man still in mourning, "... not within the bounds of propriety, sir."
Propriety! Her father's choice of word brought another smile, which Anne struggled to hide behind her embroidery frame. If Father only knew the lengths I must go to in the name of 'propriety"! she thought, looking down at the handkerchief. By this time the white ruffle had been attached, along with an additional embellishment. In order to make the feminine transformation truly complete, Anne had decided to embroider several small colourful daisies under Captain Benwick's initials. Her eyes began to dance as she finished her work on the last one -- it was a beautiful shade of pink! She glanced up for a moment and found her cousin to be gazing directly at her, with an arrested expression on his face. His eyes held an amused sparkle, as if sharing a private joke with her.
Anne shook her head at him and frowned slightly, in order to quell the comment which surely would come. He gave what appeared to be a wink and directed his attention back to Sir Walter. Mr. Elliot! Anne dropped her gaze and forced herself to concentrate on tying off the embroidery silk. When she finished the knot, she stole another look at him. Her cousin was another puzzle! For whenever she decided that she had quite made up her mind about him, he surprised her. He had been most amusing and attentive at the Leighton's dinner, so attentive that Anne feared that Lady Russell might have been right about his interest!
And yet, I have my doubts about him, she thought, as she slid the needle from the thread and placed it into the pin-cushion. He is too pleasing in his manner. How can one man be so well thought of by all? Mr. Elliot, who appeared to be a sensible and agreeable man, also had the knack of saying exactly the right thing in every situation -- a trait which Anne had always mistrusted. At the beginning of their acquaintance she had written him down as being duplicitous, trying to cover a careless past life and an unstable character with glib conversation.
But after spending more time with William Elliot, she was beginning to question that conclusion. Perhaps he regretted his past mistakes ... perhaps he was simply a clever, sociable man who had come to learn the importance of having correct opinions ... and it was unfair to condemn him because of his pleasant manners. For Frederick Wentworth had been just as pleasing and agreeable to all of the various members of the Musgrove family -- and that upon every occasion! And Frederick was certainly not duplicitous! No, she thought with a little sigh, Frederick is the most wonderful man I have ever known.
"Cousin Anne?" Mr. Elliot's voice brought her back to her present surroundings. He had changed his seat for one nearer to hers. "Ah!" he smiled in his easy way, "I thought we had lost you there for a moment! Now tell me," he lowered his voice to a confidential tone, although his eyes still held a twinkle, "about this neckcloth. In all honesty, have I crossed the line? I know I may depend upon your taste, Cousin, to advise me in all matters of propriety."
"You flatter me, Mr. Elliot," she replied, as she hunted for the scissors in her basket. Her fleeting thought of Frederick had driven the smile from her eyes. "I am no such expert. It is Elizabeth you should be asking."
"But you have such a keen grasp of what is proper, even more than she." His manner became more somber. "I should tell you, although it may sway your judgment, that this cravat was the gift of a particular friend of mine, a colleague from the days I studied law. He passed on several years ago. His taste in dress was, shall we say, flamboyant! I have kept this in memory of him."
"But is it proper, Mr. Elliot, to be wearing it at this particular time of your life?" Anne chided gently. "Father's taste also tends toward the 'flamboyant," or perhaps I should say he is 'fashionable," and yet I think you may be safely guided by his advice on this matter."
'thank you, Miss Anne. I stand corrected, and I do humbly submit myself to your most excellent judgment," Mr Elliot said meekly. "It has been a period since my wife's passing, but apparently it is yet too soon." He leaned forward in his seat. 'now about this frock coat," he said softly, and fingered the lapel. "Elizabeth has told me that a woman in my circumstance would now be entering a period of 'half-mourning". She could switch from wearing only black to wearing dove gray or lavender. Do you think ..."
"I should never wear lavender if I were you, Mr. Elliot," Anne replied ... and then realized what she had said. " Excuse me!" she gasped, "I spoke without thinking! I ..."
But Mr. Elliot had broken into laughter at her slip. "I quite agree, Miss Anne! Nothing could be worse than to see that colour on a gentlemen!" He laid his hand on the arm of her chair. "And I wish you will speak without thinking more often! For your thoughts are in perfect agreement with mine!"
"Are they?" Anne faltered, as a rosy blush came to cheeks. "I am sorry, Mr Elliot! I did not mean to speak so rudely."
"Ah!" Mr Elliot grinned, very well pleased. "And if your thoughts are rude, then what must mine be, if we think alike?! You are too unkind, Cousin!"
"I did not say that, Mr Elliot, indeed, I did not!" She hastily began replacing the rest of the sewing items into her basket.
'that, or something very like it, was your excuse at the Leighton's dinner, when you ..."
But he never had the opportunity to finish his sentence. Elizabeth addressed a comment to him, and as he began to answer, Anne slipped from her seat and moved to another part of the room. As soon as possible, she quietly made her excuses to her father and escaped from the drawing room to the privacy of her own bedchamber. Melancholy recollections of Frederick Wentworth had collided with her tangled musings over William Elliot -- and the result was complete confusion! Anne knew that an half an hour's solitude for quiet reflection would aid in tranquillising and ordering her mind.
Some little while later she descended the stairs, with a skip and a smile, her hat and a large basket in hand.. Her efforts at quiet restfulness had failed ... but instead of being downcast over Frederick Wentworth or perplexed about Mr Elliot, she felt absolutely giddy! The 'amended" handkerchief had been given to Elise to be laundered, and Anne had every expectation of being able to send it back to Captain Benwick tomorrow. She felt as though a load had been lifted from her shoulders!
And Anne's light-heartedness made her daring. Instead of rejoining her father and sister in the drawing room, she made the reckless decision to steal out of the house and do a little shopping on her own.
As Burton helped her with her cloak, she hummed a happy little tune. She could hear the muted voices of her father and Elizabeth; by their bright and cheerful tones Anne could tell that new guests had come. A tiny feeling of guilt stabbed at her conscience; should she proceed to the drawing room after all? Anne regarded her reflection in the mirror as she tied the ribbons of her bonnet.But Father has already allowed me to be excused, and I am longing to escape!
That decision made, Anne directed her thoughts elsewhere. The ivory straw bonnet she was wearing looked to be in need of some refurbishing. Perhaps she would 'squander" a bit of her pin-money on some new ribbon for it! And which colour shall I choose? she thought, as she drew on her gloves. I think I fancy that rose-pink I used for poor Captain Benwick's last little flower!
After Burton opened the heavy front door, Anne paused on the threshold for a moment, smiling at the fair prospect. It was a beautiful winter day, bright and cold. And her most pressing dilemma was solved! For the first time in some little while, all was right in the world for Anne Elliot. Or ... at least, as right as it can be, Anne corrected herself, under the circumstances. There is plenty of time for worrying ... but today I am going to treat myself to a little shopping!
"A little ... what? Charles, you cannot be serious. Little Charles has been pining to go with you for days now, how am I to tell him you are to put it off? He is upset now as it is, as you have taken so long to come down." She set an empty plate before his place at the table. "Have some breakfast. You are never sick, you know."
"I do not intend to 'put it off," Mary," he muttered, uncharacteristically grumpy. "All I said was that I think I will take Coney along, as I am feeling a bit under the weather." With difficulty he pulled out his chair and sat down. "And I think we should go to Crewkherne, instead. Shorter trip. Little Charles will enjoy that as well."
Mary poured a cup of tea for her husband and handed it to him. "Here you are. I daresay you will feel better shortly." She looked him over with an appraising eye. "You do not look to be truly unwell, I think. And it does no good to be always fancying oneself ill, as you are fond of saying." Mary busied herself with her own tea. "Why, Charles!" she exclaimed, a moment later. "Your manners, husband!"
Charles threw his wife a baleful glance and removed his elbows from the table. He would have to find another way to prop up his throbbing head. And he was feeling a little chilled now ... but he decided that the effort to move himself closer to the fire was not worth it. Charles sighed. It would likely be a very long day.
"It was so very kind of you to call." The lovely smile which accompanied Elizabeth's gracious words was flawlessly perfect; it betrayed no hint of the complete triumph she felt at that moment. "You shall find us at home Monday and Wednesday mornings," she continued, with a graceful curtsey. "Please do come again. I would enjoy it so much!"
"I ... w-we certainly sh-shall, Miss Elliot! First thing! Wh-whenever we are next in t-town, that is!" The young gentleman's undisguised admiration for his hostess caused him to stutter a little as he made his bow. But it made no material difference; he and his mother were all smiles as they left; they were obviously very pleased. The visit had gone extremely well.
As the drawing room doors closed, Elizabeth moved to stand before the tall windows overlooking Camden Place. So this is Mr. Rushworth! she thought, as she watched the pair leave the house. How very interesting! She felt an odd sense of relief and accomplishment, as if she had passed a very difficult, very crucial examination. What an unusual, unexpected visit! She wondered what would come of it, for Mr Rushworth had seemed most pleased to make her acquaintance.
A chaise and four,she mused as she looked down onto the street, watching him, for about town? Ah! He must have traveled in it from Northampton. And ... She leant forward a little to see better. The woman had already entered the vehicle; now the Mr Rushworth was climbing in, and not very nimbly, for his frame was rather large. Yes, there is the crest on the door ... of course. It had been difficult to see this, for his entrance had caused quite a rocking of the carriage. Elizabeth ignored it and concentrated on more important considerations. How many attendants? Two, no, three ... four?! she counted. How very nice. Twelve-thousand a year, they say...
"Well, Cousin! I believe you have made a Conquest!" A man's voice sounded in her ear. Elizabeth started; she had not heard her cousin approach the window.
"Hardly that, Mr. Elliot," she replied, and redirected her attention to the departing chaise below. 'simply an acquaintance. And one cannot have too many of those, I believe."
'no, indeed," he agreed. "A most enthusiastic acquaintance, my dear Cousin! A man of fortune! And ... introduced by the mother!" He chuckled. "Yes, a very good sign."
Elizabeth turned to face him fully. "And you would certainly be the one to know about that, Cousin!" she retorted, making a thinly-veiled reference to his past.
"Well, you must admit that the Rushworths are, how shall I say it? Well-inlaid?" he said candidly, refusing to be set-down. "You should make the most of it, you know," His sparkling eyes dared her to reply.
Elizabeth did not disappoint. "But you mistake me, Cousin! You have not considered! Perhaps I am assisting you in your honorable project ... since you are doing such a poor job of it!"
He frowned. "My, er, project, er ... Cousin?"
'the husband? For Anne?" Elizabeth smiled wickedly at his discomposure. "I have been expecting all this week to be introduced to the several gentlemen you had in mind for her. You may bring them ... at any time now, Mr. Elliot. I shall be pleased to welcome any and all."
Mr. Elliot brightened. "But not while you are present, my dear!" he interposed smoothly. "We have had a prime example this very morning of how it may go awry! For poor Augustus Rushworth will never so much as glance at Anne now that he has met you!! By the bye, where is she?"
"Anne? Oh, she excused herself some time ago, before the Rushworths arrived," Elizabeth answered, annoyed by his deft recovery.
'then how could you have 'helped me" by introducing her to Rushworth?" Mr Elliot murmured, with a smile. Elizabeth glared at him.
"Augustus G. Rushworth. A rather fine name." Sir Walter's voice came across the room. He held Mr. Rushworth's calling card at arm's length as he read it. "Are you acquainted with the family, Mr. Elliot?"
"Only by reputation, Sir Walter," he replied, raising his voice in order to be heard. "From what I learnt at the Leighton's, Rushworth has succeeded to one of the largest estates in Northampton. It is also said that his fortune is a sizable one."
"Ah. But no noble title to accompany it. Pity. He seemed an agreeable young man." Sir Walter returned the card to the silver tray. "Well! If he is worth a mighty fortune," he began, impressively -- and he looked around the room, for he did not want to miss the expressions of admiration which would surely come -- 'then there will be quite a rush among the more vulgar young ladies in town to secure him! Rush-Worth, ha ha!" Sir Walter laughed at his own joke.
Mr. Elliot joined in laughing with the rest of them. To Elizabeth he murmured, "I wonder what the 'G" stands for? Surely not 'Galahad"! He's too bumptious by half!"
"For shame, Mr. Elliot! I thought his admiration of me was very sweet." She smiled coyly. "You are not ... jealous, are you?" She rather hoped he was.
Mr. Elliot was saved from having to answer by Sir Walter calling him to join him in examining the Baronetage for any entry related to 'Rushworth." Elizabeth was annoyed at this, too. But during the rest of that afternoon, and on many subsequent visits, Elizabeth noticed that Mr Elliot was mindful to divide his time and conversation more equally between Anne and herself.
But at that moment, Anne had no thought of Mr Elliot or her sister. She was being ushered through the crowded common parlor at a boarding house in the Westgate Buildings, on her way to visit her friend Mrs Smith.
"Good morning!" Anne stood at the door of Mrs. Smith's small, dimly lit room with a timid smile on her face; one that was half-hopeful, half-apologetic. "Or it may be afternoon, I have lost track of the time. I ... I am sorry for breaking in on you like this, without any prior notice!" Her courage began to desert her as she saw that her friend was confined to her bed. "I was in the neighborhood ... and I have been thinking about you! And so I came! I ..." Anne felt increasingly foolish as she spoke. But she had not reckoned with the happy spirits of Mrs Smith.
"Why, Miss Elliot! Do come in! Such a pleasure always!" Mrs Smith was sincerely pleased to see her friend and the smile which lit her pale face warmed Anne's heart. As Anne came fully into the room, Mrs Smith good-naturedly rolled her eyes at the noisy din in the parlor. 'dear me! Mrs Bascom's brother must be visiting! He is quite deaf and shouts so! Could I trouble you to just close the door behind you?"
Anne did as she was bid and Mrs Smith readjusted her position on the bed. "I know I appear to be quite ill," said she, as she pushed at a pillow, "but it is not at all so! I overextended myself yesterday and am confined to my bed in this stupid way ... as a punishment!" She nodded meaningfully toward the door. "My dear landlady is especially mindful of the harm we convelescants bring upon ourselves by overdoing anything! But I feel fine! Wonderful, in fact, now that you are here!" She motioned to the chair beside the bed. "Please, do stay!" Noticing Anne's hesitancy, she added, "I have been feeling quite lonely, you know, shut up in here by myself!"
Anne sat down, grateful for such a warm and open welcome. Her cheeks were pink from the cold air outdoors; her color deepened as she brought her rather large shopping basket to her lap. "Have you had your tea, Mrs. Smith? I hope not; it is rather early, is it not? I ..." Anne dropped her eyes, a little embarrassed at her own impulsiveness. But when she raised them and saw Mrs. Smith's happy face, she smiled once again and continued with her explanation. Indeed, she seemed to be powerless to stop her words from pouring out!
"I brought a few things with me ... for our tea," she indicated the basket with her hand. "It was the oddest thing! After I finished my other shopping, I noticed the most wonderful aroma from the baker's ... and so I went in! I do not know why, I am not usually given to such impulsive actions, as you know. And there were these little cakes ... and ... cream-filled pastries ... and ... I could not resist them!" Anne pulled the items from the basket to show her friend as she chattered on. "And then, having done that, I had to stop and get some tea ... and milk ... and the sugar ..." Anne caught herself. "Oh! I ... you do not mind, do you? For I ..."
But Mrs Smith was laughing in surprise and delight at her friend's high spirits. "Mind?!" She interrupted Anne's apology. 'never! A party! Just as we used ... do you remember?" She grinned a little wickedly. 'sneaking sweets into our rooms, right under old Miss Pritkin's nose?"
'so we did! I had forgotten. You were the instigator of those parties, as I remember, Miss Hamilton!"
"Yes, and I will have you know you were tutored by an expert! And this is the result! Excellent work! What else have you there?" Mrs Smith was quite caught up in the spirit of the thing and she instructed her guest to clear the small table by her bed for the 'feast." A teapot and the necessary tableware were begged from the landlady and soon the 'party" was in full swing, with both women chattering happily.
"Ah, this is so very nice," Anne said, as she cupped her hands around the large, warm teacup. "Just what we need on such a cold winter day!" She smiled at her friend over its rim. "My godmother, Lady Russell, is gone away from Bath for a few weeks. I find I am at quite a loss without her."
Anne put down her cup. "I became quite used to company, when I was in Uppercross, you see," she confessed. "Well, it was only the company of my sister Mary. She does prattle on about her ailments, which are not at all like yours! But those last few days, at the wedding, I talked so much to Cap ... to other people! And all this week I have been longing for a friend!"
Mrs. Smith laid down her fork and pulled a mournful face. "A wedding, did you say? I am coming to loathe hearing of them, at my age!" She grinned, took another bite of cake, and added, "And the bride, is she old and fusty, like me?"
"Old and fusty? You are never so! But the bride is a lovely girl," Anne added, with a sigh. "Which is just as she should be, for she is not yet twenty, I believe."
'dear me, the bloom of youth! And the bridegroom? Is he as young?"
'no." Anne sighed again and took up her teacup. "He is thirty-two."
"Ah! Much better! Quite the perfect age! And ... is he charming?"
"Very charming, I"m afraid!" Anne said, with a regretful shake of her head. It was still a little difficult to speak of him. Fortunately, Mrs Smith knew nothing of the sad little history of her broken engagement.
But Mrs Smith did not recognise Anne's change in mood and, instead, began to warm to her subject. "And has he a profession? Is he well provided for?"
"Well, yes," Anne smiled sadly. "Indeed, he is considered quite rich now!"
"Really?! And ... this is too much to hope for, but ... is he handsome?"
"Extremely handsome! He is tall, with dark hair and eyes." She felt a tightening in her throat as she thought pictured him in her mind. Frederick, who was now parted from her forever! She smiled politely at Mrs Smith, and looked down at the plate in her lap. Her friend lived so little in the world now; Anne did not blame her for being interested in any news she could get hold of ... even if the news was about Frederick Wentworth.
"Oh My!" Mrs Smith exclaimed, with a comical, pained expression on her pale face. But since Anne was not looking up, she did not see this, or she would have been prepared for what was to follow. As it was, she merely heard Mrs Smith say, with a catch in her voice, "He sounds quite ... wonderful!"
"He ... is a fine man. In fact, I ... " Anne was mindful of her duty hold up her end of this most awkward conversation and bravely kept her voice steady as she spoke. "I can think of nothing to say against him. He is a captain of the Royal Navy, a courageous and honorable man."
Mrs Smith clapped a hand to her breast "You don't say! And ... did he wear his glorious blue and gold uniform for the wedding?"
"Oh, yes," Anne whispered.
"Well then!" Mrs Smith exclaimed gaily. "We have but one course of action! We must drown his bride in the lake and grab him for ourselves!"
"Drown her?!!" Anne gasped in alarm at such an audacity. "Oh no!! Indeed, Mrs Smith, how ... how can you say such a dreadful thing?"
"Or we could shoot her, instead," Mrs Smith continued on, with mock seriousness, "but I do not know how to fire a gun, much less how to load one! Do you?"
"Certainly not!" Anne was horrified, but she could think of no way to check the incautious cheerfulness of Mrs Smith.
"What a shame," Mrs Smith chuckled. "However, there is another problem, you know."
'there is?" Anne managed. "I mean, yes! Of course there is!"
Mrs Smith gave Anne a knowing look. "We cannot exactly share him, now can we?" She paused to take a sip of her tea. "Well? Shall we settle it as the gentlemen do? What do you say? Shall we fight for him?"
"Fight for him?!!"
"Well, flip a coin, then! Or toss the dice, it matters not to me," Mrs Smith continued recklessly. "How else shall I get another husband? Subterfuge and underhanded maneuvers are the only avenues left to me!"
"Underhanded maneu ...? Oh, Mrs. Smith! That is not so!"
"Oh, not for you, dear, if only half of what I hear is true! No, not at all!" she countered, with a smile.
"What can you mean, Mrs Smith?" Anne faltered, caught off-guard by this sudden shift.
"I hear that a certain gentleman finds your company excessively delightful. A man who shares your name?"
"A certain gent ... who would that ..." Anne jumped at the opportunity to change the subject. "Oh. Do you mean my cousin, Mr Elliot?" She dismissed him with a shake of her head. "He is always hanging about; he does not prefer me."
"Well, I have information to the contrary," Mrs Smith teazed.
"Your informants are mistaken, then," she said flatly. "Would you care for more tea?" Anne took hold of the teapot and indicated her friend's empty cup.
"Yes, please," came the cheerful answer. "Ah me! I have not laughed so for, why, it must be years! Now tell me about this Mr Elliot."
'no, indeed! I should, instead, take you to task for abusing my poor friends!" Anne gave her a look of mild reproach. 'shooting the bride to get a husband for yourself! Really!"
"Oh, Poo!" Mrs Smith grinned. "I think we ladies take the getting of a husband altogether too seriously, sometimes!"
"Well, you certainly do not!" she scolded. "And it is too bad of you! What a way to evaluate the bridegroom!"
"Was I so dreadful?" Mrs Smith's eyes twinkled. 'tell me how!"
'those questions! 'Is he charming?" 'Is he rich?" 'Is he handsome?" Now I ask you, is this any way to choose a husband?" Anne could not help but smile, yet her eyes held a serious expression. "I mean, these qualities, in this order?"
"But of course!" Mrs Smith replied, decidedly. "And I should know! I chose a most excellent man for myself!"
"And so you did," Anne said quietly. Lady Russell had spoken this way, about the importance of choosing well. She used different words to describe it, but the concepts were the same. Anne fell silent as she remembered her conversation from Sunday last. 'Well-opinioned" and 'well-mannered," instead of 'charming" -- 'a man of fortune," instead of 'rich," and as to 'handsome" ... Anne wondered if Lady Russell would consider appearance an important consideration in a husband. Turning her attention back to Mrs Smith, she said, "And ... you were happy together."
"I was very fond of him, yes," Mrs Smith replied, in a more subdued voice.
"And ..." Anne's words trailed off into silence. "I am so very sorry. You must miss him terribly."
"I do." Mrs Smith became occupied with the folding of her napkin.
"But ... Mrs Smith," Anne's expression became more wistful and any remaining traces of a smile faded away. "What about, well, what would you say about ... the importance of ..." She gave her friend a cautious, hesitant look.
"Yes?" Mrs Smith asked gently, laying the napkin aside.
"I have been ... thinking. About the choosing of a husband, I mean. What do you think of ..." There was something Anne wanted very much to ask, but she did not know if she dared.
"In the choosing of a husband ..." Mrs Smith repeated, encouragingly. There was no trace of joviality about her manner now, only gentle friendliness. "Are you thinking of choosing a husband, Anne?"
"Well, I ..." Anne glanced at Mrs Smith shyly. "Oh, no! Not choosing one. What a very odd way for me to express that sentiment! A woman does not exactly choose, now does she? It is the gentleman who makes the offer, after all."
"But I think she does choose," Mrs Smith replied seriously. 'she encourages or rebuffs the attentions of the men in her circle of acquaintance. And she must do so with much forethought and care, for her opportunities to marry will be few.
"Yes," Anne answered softly. Amanda Russell had said the very same thing. The opportunities would be few.
"And does someone you know have such an opportunity to ... choose?"
Anne looked at the plate she held in her lap. "Yes ... I ... someone ... someone I know ... is thinking of marrying ... only in a very theoretical sense, you see ... just beginning to consider it, and ..." She looked up and managed to give her friend an awkward little smile. "I"m not saying this very clearly, am I?"
"You are, and I understand exactly what you mean." Mrs Smith smiled kindly.
"I mean to say," Anne began again, and gathering her courage, plunged ahead with her question. 'that is, I mean to ask, that is, ah ... how important is love ... romantic love, I mean ... in deciding to marry?"
"Well. That is a question." Mrs. Smith handed her plate and cup to Anne and folded her hands restfully in her lap. 'shall I tell you how I came to my decision? About my dear Charles? Perhaps you could tell your 'friend" about it."
And Mrs Smith's answer to Anne's question took up the remainder of the visit.
Authors" Note: Our apologies to the lovers of Mansfield Park if we have erred in the section relating to Mr Rushworth. We have searched that work to discover his Christian name; finding none, we have taken the liberty of giving him one of our own choosing. Those of you who have loved Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as much as we will know from whom we borrowed the name ... and exactly what the "G" stands for! And perhaps ... a bit about his appearance as well!
Chapter 13, Part 2
Crown Hill Parish, Shropshire
The balance of Friday progressed quietly. Frederick spent a good part of the evening teaching his wife the intricacies of the card game, pique. After quite a few hands, she grew tired and he put away the cards in favour of reading to her. After two chapters, he looked up to find that she had quietly fallen asleep. Closing the book, he covered her snugly and gently kissed her goodnight.
As he made his way down to the study, he took a little wicked glee in the fact that he had won three pence in his evenings exertions. It had taken some time as it was won a farthing at a time. The Captain laughed at his own pretension. He had bested a girl who had begun each hand by lamenting her ineptitude in mathematics and cardplay -- while he was able to cipher calculus in his head, and if not playing against sharps, was quite skillful at cards. It takes a truly superior mind to find satisfaction from such an inferior happening, he chuckled to himself.
Taking a seat in the study, he insinuated himself into the conversation between the Rector and his wife, where the subject of Joshua Junkins was brought up.
"Have you told Louisa about him? About his appearance I mean?" Edward inquired.
'no, to tell the truth, I had forgotten . . . hadn't even thought about needing to. I suppose I should. He can be discomfiting when sprung upon you." Frederick looked at his brother with a raised brow. As 'sprung upon' precisely described how Mr Junkins had been presented to him. After being told about the man's injuries, and given glowing reports as to the fine character of the fellow, Edward had asked the Captain to meet his friend. The fact that they had been driving up to the man's house at the time, had in no way, been meant to influence the answer.
Catherine looked up from her lace knitting and interjected, "After one knows him, you seem to forget about his deformities . . . at least I have. Though . . . have you noticed that his voice is softening?"
Edward stretched his legs out before him and said, "Yes . . . I wonder if talking is harming it. His lungs are not good . . . from the fire . . . I can't imagine that his voice is any stronger. He hadn't spoken for so long . . . excepting to Arthur." Frederick frowned. 'the horse," Edward explained. "I would imagine that finally having someone to talk with has taxed what little ability he has in that regard. Anywise, I think it might be a kindness if you were to explain to your wife about him and his . . . look. It would be most embarrassing to them both if he walked in and she fainted or something."
Frederick smiled, and looked at Edward, "Well, I doubt that she'll faint . . . after all, her family is populated by some rather odd ducks on the Hayter side . . ."
"Frederick! Catherine scolded, "What a cruel thing to say about your wife's family."
"He's quite right, my dear," Edward defended. "And he's not saying anything that Mr Musgrove didn't say directly to me . . . at the wedding! I thought it rather odd that he would say such things, but I suppose he figured that the vows had been said . . . there was no escape for the groom by that time. Though I think that Mrs Musgrove might not take kindly to characterising her family as, odd ducks."
Frederick had taken a cup of tea and finishing it, smiled, "You're right, Catherine. I apologise. No matter, I shall tell her about him tomorrow and prepare her. She's a sensible girl and once she meets him and has a chance to converse with him, I think she will do fine."
The remainder of the conversation centered on what was to be served and the seating arrangement. Both of these were revolved around Junkins and his particular needs. Mrs Wentworth did not mind the added effort. Joshua Junkins had won her admiration when he had reached beyond himself and taken a wife. It was further cemented when a young orphaned girl, Mary had been taken in by the couple. If there was a way that she might help the man to learn how to move through a friendly social occasion, she was more than willing to arrange a simplified path.
After some give and take, and a few suggestions taken under consideration, the Rector and Mrs Wentworth retired. Frederick accepted Catherine's peck good night and his brother's clap on the shoulder. He listened as the two made their way up the stairs, chatting and quietly laughing as they went.
Pouring himself a drink and settling down at his brother's desk, he took paper and a pen. Looking off into darkness outside the window, he tapped on the blotter and thought. Never before had his leaving entailed so many details. Before, he had only had himself to manage, but now there was another to consider. And never before had his leaving brought about in the way of feelings, but, surprisingly, this leave taking was bringing about emotions at every turn.
'no matter how much I dread this, it must be done. And I thought the first was bad enough . . . but this one . . ." he muttered in complaint. When he had won his first sizeable prize, Frederick had finally made a will. Up until that point, all that he had possessed was a sea chest and it's sparse contents of uniforms, a pair of pinchbeck buckled shoes and the only thing of real value that he owned at the time, a Campbell sextant that he had won playing dice. Had he been knocked in the head while at sea, after sliding him over the side in his hammock, his goods would have been sold at the mast and what little the sale had drawn would have been sent to his brother, thus bringing to an end, his inglorious naval career. But after his luck had changed and there was more to him than Uncle Nathaniel's sea chest, Frederick had wanted his brother to inherit, should anything happen to him. Now, with his marriage, it was time to amend the document, and make Louisa his rightful heir.
The first will had been written in a flash. The short document had very simply disposed of all his worldly goods, excepting a small gift to his sister, in favour of Edward. His only concern had been that his brother would have a comfortable life, that someone would enjoy the fruits of his labour. The Lieutenant had taken great joy in the getting of those rewards and, if he were to die, he wished his brother to take his ease by them.
But now . . . this new will had so much more meaning for the one that he would leave. The young woman he was falling in love with would profit greatly by his death, but he knew in his heart that she would take no comfort in this inheritance. Louisa loved him, and his growing love for her caused an ache that he had not felt for years. Along with the ache, was a growing regret. For the first time, in all the years he had been at sea, he was not looking forward to a return.
As the day was ending for most of the Parish, the occupants of Bramford Hall were just making ready for the evening to begin.
Pollard Levant stood looking out the French doors in the salon. There was not much to see in the early dark of March. He silently thanked a god in which he did not believe, that the days were growing noticeably longer. He had always found the country dull in comparison to his beloved London, but the rustication had been necessary. As soon as his finances were somewhat repaired, he intended to fully resume his civilised life in Town.
Looking at his watch, he muttered, "Where is that woman? I don't think we have sat down to table, on time, once, since her arrival!"
'no, we have not, Pollard. But, in my humble opinion, she and her entrances are more than worth the wait!"
Pollard turned to face the voice. It was that of his particular friend, Daniel Randwick. Randwick was helping himself to a drink. Levant studied him as he often did.
Pollard Levant did not choose his friends according to affection. Each offered something that he wanted . . . or needed. Young Randwick was fresh from University, eager to learn the ways of the world and the Randwick family being very old, and very monied, offered entre» into the finest circles with very little question. There was a respectability that accompanied the name and an innocence that accompanied the fellow; Pollard Levant having spent most of his social capital down to nothing required both.
"Lo!. . . the dress last night! Good lord! I had to look twice to see that it was all there!" Randwick's eyes shone in remembrance. He hurriedly downed the drink and poured another.
Levant said nothing in reply, and continued to study as he remembered the night he had attached himself to Randwick. By chance, they had been seated at the same table at a small, private gaming club owned by the Demarest Syndicate. Randwick had quickly proven to be out of his league when it came to cards, but Pollard had noticed the ease with which he took great losses, it was then that a new friendship was born.
The connection between the Demarest family and that of Levant was generations old. It was this connection which gave Pollard comfort as it was the Demarest Syndicate, chiefly, who held his markers. All the Levants before him had been fond of saying, "My grandfather died owing a Demarest, my father died owing a Demarest, and so I will surely die, owing a Demarest!" How far back this cant could be traced, no Levant knew, but each succeeding generation chanted it to ward off thoughts of the dreadful alternatives.
"Yes, well . . . be careful with that," he said, pointing to the bottle, 'too much too quickly and you will miss her show this evening." Pollard turned back to the French doors, took another look at his watch and grumbled something about, 'not enough of a show, if you ask me."
Upstairs, the woman in question was preparing for her third evening of idle prating with the gentlemen downstairs. "I told you . . . tighter!" the woman cried.
"Yes, Madam. I'ma pullin' as tight as I dare!" a trembling girl replied.
'the woman whirled about and slowly intoned, through gritted teeth, "I told you, tighter! You are not capable of pulling so hard that you will hurt me . . . do you understand, you stupid cow!?"
The girl willed her jaw tightly shut to keep from dissolving into tears. "Yes, ma'am." The woman turned her back and they began again. On this attempt, the girl had no trouble summoning the strength needed to tighten and tie the corset to the woman's satisfaction.
"You may go. I have no idea how long I shall be . . . I will call you when I need you . . . and don't make me call you twice!"
The girl dropped a curtsey and left the room.
Rosamond studied herself in the mirror. Running her hands over the stays and feeling the tie in the back she was satisfied that the girl had done things right. She mused that as likely as not, she was the only woman in this cloddish locale who would still submit herself to the tortures of a boned corset. Looking again in the mirror, she smiled. No matter the discomfort, there was nothing like bone to make a pleasing figure, superior. And a woman in her 'field of endeavour' must use all the tools available.
Taking up the silk dress carelessly tossed across the chair of the dressing table, she stepped into it, careful not to catch it on the heel of her kid boots. Shrugging into the tight shoulders, she hooked the near facing on the inside of the front yoke and crossed the other over and fastened it under her bosom. A front closing dress would never do at home, but here in the county, more casual dress was expected . . . and desired. Adjusting everything to her satisfaction, as the final touch, she carefully plucked at the delicate lace adorning her shift. Meticulously, she brought each point to perfection. This allowed just enough to peek out of the low-cut front. It was an enticment for anyone who cared to look.
After donning gloves and her shawl, she was ready. Her final look in the mirror was always with the eyes of her audience. Her lips curved as she anticipated young Randwick's reaction. As she smoothed and turned to and fro, Rosamond smiled, remembering his sputtered greeting of the evening before. If the young man did her half the credit, all her efforts would be justified. Levant's reactions were no longer of importance to her; their arrangement was nearly played out and she had decided that young Randwick was where her future lay.
Touching her lips with a bit more colour, and rearranging the fall of her hair, she mused that the country did offer some freedoms that the city lacked. Taking up her reticule, she put in another handkerchief. As she made her way to the door, she watched her reflection in the mirror. The effect was perfect. It would be another interesting evening. She smiled triumphantly and went on down to dinner.
"Will that be more to yer liking, dearie? Here now." Nurse Rooke helped Mrs Smith ease her way back into her bed and tucked the blankets snugly around her frail form. "It"ll be colder tonight."
'thank you. Yes, it does seem so," Mrs Smith answered, with a faint smile. "You are very good to take so much trouble over me, Mrs Rooke." She lay back on the pillow with a sigh. "Oh! If only I were not so weak!"
'now ye just rest yerself, and no complaining outta you, missy! Remember how things was when ye come."
"Yes, indeed. I am much improved, thanks to your excellent care! Oh, and will you please thank Mrs Bascom for that delicious soup I had at supper? Tell her I feel stronger already!"
"Aye, and after the day ye"ve had and what ye et, I shouldna wonder," Nurse Rooke chuckled good-naturedly. "I hear ye had yerself quite a visitor." She busied herself with arranging the vials of medicine on the small table near the bed. "One o" the Elliot sisters, according t" Ruthie. The one what Missus Wallis is always talkin" of."
"Yes. Anne. She is a kind and thoughtful young woman. She brought her tea to share with me."
"An I would be gone, waitin" on Missus Wallis!" Nurse Rooke shook her head in regret. "I woulda liked to see Miz Elliot, for its her that the Colonel's friend is wild over, or so Missus Wallis says. Unless it's the high'n mighty one. But Missus Wallis thinks he's changin" his mind 'bout her."
'that would be Elizabeth, the elder sister. I have never met her."
"An neither of them sisters is married ... nor so young as they once was, eh?"
"Perhaps not," Mrs Smith replied, without elaboration. She did not like to gossip about Anne Elliot.
"Well, with that Mister Elliot half livin" in the house, anyone can guess what's to happen, there! " Nurse Rooke put in, with a wink.
"I"m afraid my friend said nothing about banns or wedding bells, Nurse, for either of them!" Mrs Smith stifled a yawn and added, " I hate to disappoint you, but there you are!"
Mrs Rooke surveyed her patient with a professional eye and clucked disapprovingly. 'now, now. That's enough of that, for tonight. Ye"ll be needin yer rest." She patted Mrs Smith's hand kindly and began to blow out the candles. "I hear that the Elliot fella is a fine lookin" man ... and rich as the day is long. One of 'em"ll snap him up soon enough!" She paused, with a wink and a grin. "Ye won't hold out on yer old nurse now, will ye?"
"No, indeed!" came the gentle reply. "As soon as I hear of an engagement, I shall appraise you instantly. Although ... it will probably be you who hears of it first, through the Wallises, you know."
"Aye, mor'n likely," Nurse Rooke chuckled and murmured her good nights as she finished with the candles and quietly left the room.
Mrs Smith was left alone to stare into the darkness of her tiny bedchamber. She turned and she tossed for quite a while -- as well as an invalid could, which was not much, by anyone else's standards! But her restlessness only increased as the night wore on. Her body was certainly weary but sleep would not come. Her mind was very much awake, and oddly enough, she was becoming a little uncomfortable at the direction her thoughts were taking.
It is not as if I have done anything wrong! she thought defensively, as she recalled the conversation which had occupied much of that afternoon. I said nothing which was not the truth! I held back from telling ... but she did not ask me about ... Mrs. Smith's face grew warm as she remembered that delicate question, the one which a timid and tongue-tied Anne Elliot had barely been able to utter.
She wanted to know about love and about choosing a husband ... and nothing more! And I told her of the reasons behind my decision to accept poor Charlie. What could be the harm in that? She brought her hands up to her burning cheeks, ashamed. Anne Elliot had merely asked a trifling thing, just as any young woman would -- and had mentioned no names. It would have been presumptuous to assume that Anne meant to speak of William Elliot. But I know she asked in reference to him! I know it! And this was the point at which her conscience smote her. For Mrs Smith was far from being uninformed or objective on the subject of Mr Elliot!
She took a deep breath in an attempt to think more rationally. I have no reason to worry. Anne is nothing like that foolish Susanna! And if he were to love her ... he surely must love her! For he is so attentive! Mrs Rooke had told her that William Elliot spoke glowingly of Anne to the Wallises; would this not be an indication of his admiration and respect? And he had never had one particle of respect for his late wife, Mrs Smith knew that very well! Save his 'respect" for her fortune, that is! Mrs Smith's brows knit together as she struggled to reason it out. But Anne may have little to offer him in that way, if what I hear about her family is true! What other reason would there be besides love ...
'the title." Mrs Smith flushed as she spoke the words aloud. "Good G-d! He is protecting his interest in the title!" For she had heard Mrs Rooke speak of a companion, a 'wolf in sheep's clothing" whom Colonel Wallis and William Elliot feared had designs on Sir Walter. Mrs Smith searched her memory. A Mrs Somebody-or-other, recently divorced. Her name ... she has a very appropriate name ... 'Earth" or 'Dirt" or some such thing. And if she were to wed the old gentleman and produce an heir ... Mrs Smith smiled into the darkness, delighted by the thought of William Elliot being thwarted at the height of his expectations. It would serve him right! Horrid man! She went on thinking for awhile in this vein, pleased to think of the justice which would be served by such a turn of events.
But soon she caught herself, a little shocked by her own vindictiveness. Her last contact with the man had been two years ago, after Charles" death; she had certainly had cause to hate him then! But it was hardly fair to compare what he was then with what he might be now. For I have certainly changed ... cannot another amend his ways as well as I? She did not take long to consider this charitable notion, however. It was unlikely that such a man -- who was so careless of his 'friends" once they had outlived their usefulness -- would in so a sort time develop any semblance of humanity. And so she was left to ponder whether his love for Anne Elliot, and goodness of her superior nature, could effect such a change upon him in the course of a marriage ... if there were to be a marriage. Despite what she had told Anne, Mrs Smith had great faith in the redemptive power of love, even for such an one as William Elliot!
This was poor sop to offer her smarting conscience, however, for there was that other niggling consideration: the encumbered West Indian property. She was not objective about this subject either! If Anne does marry him, I am sure that he would act, as executor of Charles" will, to have restored to me what is mine! Mr Elliot might have slighted and ignored the poor and sickly widow of Charles Smith, but she knew he would certainly do all in his power to assist the friend of his beloved wife! And there followed many happy thoughts of what her life would be like then, for she would be able to live decently and without the continual anxiety of poverty. And if Anne does not marry him ... well, I suppose I shall be no more worse off than I am now!
But although she ended her musings in her typical light-hearted way, it was long before Mrs Smith found sleep that night. In consequence, she suffered another small setback in her health and could not leave her bed for the remainder of that week.
Anne Elliot was thinking about that very conversation as she passed the evening with her father and sister in the drawing room. Sir Walter and Elizabeth were seated before the fire with Mrs Clay; there was an air of expectancy among them, for it was at this hour that Mr Elliot often came to pay his respects.
Anne sat apart, an open book of poetry on her lap. Had the others observed her closely, they would have seen that her eyes were not focused on the book; instead she was lost in thought, remembering the advice given by Mrs Smith.
'there comes a time in every woman's life where she becomes aware of her own ... oh, dare I say it? ... limitations," Mrs Smith had begun. "When she realizes that the handsome prince of her girlhood dreams will not be coming for her ... and that she must be realistic and make the best match she can!"
Anne fingered the edges of the pages of her book. She had felt the same sensations Mrs Smith had described during her luncheon with Lady Russell on Sunday last. "We must be realistic, dear," Lady Russell had said. You have sat too long upon the shelf." Anne had recoiled to hear such words, but they were completely true. I have spent too many years waiting for Frederick ... and this is the result! The former Miss Hamilton had come to terms with her 'limitations" and it was high time Miss Anne Elliot did the same. Her thoughts returned to the words of her friend.
'to be honest, my own fortune was quite meager ... you can see how much I have to live on these days! And I was never considered more than 'fine-looking," you know. As most silly girls will do, I had raised my expectations far beyond what I ought -- and I already had received several very pointed snubs from gentlemen I had come to admire, oh! from a distance, you know. And then it was that I met Charles Smith. How well I can recall that evening," she had said with a smile, "he was my dinner partner ... and we got on very well."
"He was nowhere near the man of my dreams, being rather plain in appearance, but he was very pleasant and amusing! I liked him well enough ... and when he began to show particular regard for me, I was flattered. But I do not believe I was then 'in love" with him. He was considered to be a man of fortune (though he had less than everyone assumed), but he cared not that I had so little to bring to the marriage. Indeed, money was never a consideration to his generous heart, poor lamb! It has been a great comfort to me that he died before he could learn how things actually stood ..."
To hear such things had caused Anne to blush then, and she did so now as she remembered them. She could recall feeling the just same when Charles Musgrove had proposed. 'I liked him well enough ..." And yet, Mrs Smith had made a different choice; and she had gone on to tell Anne of her reasons for accepting Charles Smith's offer.
"My future was quite limited, which I never wanted to face fully, at only seventeen! But there were indications that things were about to change for me -- and none for the better! It was at about this time that Miss Pritkin offered me a position at the seminary, working and living with the younger girls. I was highly affronted, until my uncle, who had been paying my tuition, urged me to take it, as it was high time I began to make my own way in the world!"
"I wanted independence, Miss Elliot, and my own establishment. Charles Smith offered me both, as well as a very good style of living. I was fit only to be a wife and mother ... I did not want to dwindle into the position of ..." Mrs Smith spent some moments composing herself, and when she raised her eyes to Anne's, the earnest expression in them was a little shocking. Mrs Smith spoke very distinctly so that Anne could not mistake her meaning. 'the romantic love came later, Anne, after I had made my decision to accept him. But you must know this: my choice was not between the man of my dreams and Charles Smith, it was between Charles Smith ... and spinsterhood!"
Anne winced at the truth behind her friend's words. She had no fortune to bring to a marriage, either. Who would choose to marry a woman who was as impoverished as she? Do I have the same choice before me? Between Mr Elliot and ... spinsterhood?
"Anne, my dear, you have been very quiet." Sir Walter's voice called Anne back from her melancholy thoughts. "What have you found to occupy yourself this evening?"
"I am reading a selection by Herrick, sir," Anne answered, with a calmness she did not feel.
"Eh? Er ... Herrick?" He noticed the small volume in her hand and hazarded a guess. "Poetry, is it? Well then," Sir Walter smiled expansively. 'suppose you favour us with a reading, daughter."
Anne swallowed her objection. This had been a selection for her private musings; she did not wish to read it aloud to the entire company. But all eyes were upon her and she could not choose another quickly or unnoticed. "Very well, Father," she answered obediently. She sat up straight and held the book primly before her. But there was no need to read the words; she already knew each stanza from memory. Her clear and steady voice betrayed nothing of the inner turmoil raging in her heart and mind.
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying
And the same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.
Anne did not see it, but as the meaning behind these words filled her mind, Mrs Clay suddenly became very interested in the lace she was knitting.
That age is best which is the first,
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse and worst
Times still succeed the former.
That age is best which is the first,
"Really, Anne!" Elizabeth muttered under her breath. "What a cheery little piece you"ve chosen!"
Anne raised her eyes from the book to gaze wonderingly at her sister. For whether she acknowledged it or not, Elizabeth faced the same fate as she! Anne took a breath and finished the reading.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may for ever tarry.
"Well! How delightful! And what shall we have next? Shall you play a dirge for us? Honestly, Anne," Elizabeth complained. "Hearing such things is about as pleasant as having a ... a corpse laid out in state right here!"
'daughter," Sir Walter interposed. "Calm yourself. Anne has simply reminded us of the importance of marrying well and at the right time!" He smiled at Anne. 'thank you, my dear. That will be enough for tonight." At that moment the drawing room door opened to admit Burton and another gentleman, who was clad in dark clothing.
Yes, that will be quite enough! Anne thought miserably, as she closed her book. For it appears that I 'may for ever tarry." A small grain of resolution had been planted in Anne's heart after Frederick's wedding; now it began to take root and grow as she made an important decision. She stared down at her lap; her fingers traced the embossed scrollwork on the cover of her book. Her choice brought a semblance of peace, but no comfort. Anne blushed to hear Mr Elliot's name being announced and the happy words of welcome which accompanied his entrance. At last she looked up and forced herself to smile at him. She quickly looked back down again, for she felt tears begin to well up in her eyes. Very well, Cousin William, she thought bravely, as she stole another look at him. If you so choose to make me an offer ... I shall accept you ... as my last resort! She closed her eyes and clasped the book tightly as a sensation of desperation threatened to overwhelm her. After all, it could not be so very bad to be your wife ... I hope.
The gentleman in the heavy greatcoat was the last passenger to descend from the mail coach when it finally stopped for the night. In one arm he gingerly balanced a bulky package wrapped in paper, with the other he groped at something still inside the vehicle. He was in the midst of removing a rather battered satchel from the coach when a young boy ran up to him.
'do ye be needin" ony 'elp, guv'nor?" he asked, a little out of breath. He was obviously hoping to earn a few farthings by helping as many of the passengers as he could.
The man eyed the boy before answering. When he had satisfied himself that this was the same lad who had been riding with the driver (and not a stray urchin), he replied, 'thank you, I would. If you'd just take this satchel into the inn for me, please."
The boy looked at the package the man held with frank interest. "Ye want 'elp wit" that oth"r 'un, too?"
'no, no. I think I'd better manage this myself, thank you. It is rather delicate." The boy looked a little crestfallen, but turned and picked up the satchel anyway. As the pair made their way across the stable yard, the gentleman in the greatcoat added, "I must be very careful with it. You see, if it is exposed to the cold it will die."
This answer only served to whet the boy's interest further and his look of earnest curiosity brought a smile to the gentleman's travel-weary face. When they reached the entrance to the coaching inn, he remarked, very off-handedly, "Would you like to see what it is?"
"Aye, sir! Tha" I would!" he exclaimed eagerly. "I seed ye 'oldin" it on yer lap," the boy confided, as he pulled open the heavy door, "an" I been wonderin" th" 'ole trip wot it mi" be."
They made their way through the crowded taproom and the gentleman in the greatcoat carefully set his burden down on one of the benches. "It is a plant from the East, from China," he said, with an air of mystery, and dug in his pocket for a few small coins to give the lad. "Come closer." He folded back the paper wrapping to reveal the top of the plant. 'there we are. Isn't it beautiful? It is called 'Gardenia." " Beneath the brim of his hat, the man's brown eyes twinkled warmly. "What do you think of it?"
The boy stared in wonder at the small bush with its glossy dark green leaves and fragrant white blossoms. It was some moments before he could find his voice. "Ah, guv'nor," he said at last. 'that there flower ... it 'as the very smell of 'eaven itself!"
The gentleman laid a kindly hand on the small boy's shoulder. "I quite agree," said he, with a gentle smile. 'the scent of Heaven," he repeated, and a faraway look came into his eyes. "And the fragrance of love ..." he murmured, "unexpected love ... "
Quotation: To the Virgins: to Make Much of Time by Robert Herrick
Chapter 14 (Part 1)
Dodson stood at the bedchamber door, uncertain of what she should do. Dare she knock and risk rousing Mr Charles from much-needed sleep? But what if his illness had worsened in the night? Concern got the better of caution; she turned the knob and pushed the door open a crack. "Mr Charles, sir? She peered through the opening and listened carefully, then boldly slipped into the room. Within a very few minutes she emerged, taking special care to shut the door quietly behind her. She then made her way purposefully down the hall.
"Mrs Charles, ma"am?" Dodson rapped firmly at Mary Musgrove's door. "Mrs Charles?" When there was no acknowledging reply, the housekeeper opened the door and went directly over to the bed. "Mrs Charles!" she addressed its occupant. "You must wake up, ma"am! Your husband is very poorly!"
"Mmmm?" Mary cracked open an eye and stared blankly at the woman for a moment or two. 'dodson, for Heaven's sake!" she grumbled at last. "Whatever is the matter?"
"It's the Master, ma"am. He is very sickly."
Mary moaned and turned over in the bed. 'no, he never does do anything very quickly, she muttered sleepily. "And I do not wish for breakfast this early, no matter what he says!"
Dodson made another attempt. "Madam, your husband is very ..."
"I am quite ill this morning, Dodson!" Mary interrupted. "Indeed, I can hardly speak, I am so exhausted! Do go away!" And with that she pulled a pillow over her head.
Dodson pulled it off. "Madam," she said, in a more harried tone, "Master Charles is very sickly! His breathing is laboured and he is feverish!"
Mary Musgrove sat bolt upright. "Little Charles?!?" she cried, aghast. "Good G-d! Why didn't you say so in the first place!?!"
"Hush, Madam, you"ll wake him!" Dodson replied, in a grim voice. "I meant to say 'Mister Charles," Madam, meaning your husband. A natural mistake, under the circumstances."
"Oh." Mary sank back on the pillows with a groan of vexation. "Him." Her housekeeper had known Charles from childhood; she had (in Mary's opinion) the typical impertinent presumption and misplaced loyalty of a longtime family retainer. "Yes, Dodson," said she, with a sigh, "Mr Charles said he has a cold. What a nuisance!" She yawned and dismissed the woman with a wave of her hand. 'do go away ... and make him a ... a mustard plaster, or a bowl of soup, or ... something."
"Mrs Charles, please! He is very poorly, ma"am and I think you ..."
'do not make me tell you again, Dodson!" Mary interrupted, and closed her eyes. "Mr Charles will be better in a day or two. He always is."
"Very Good, Madam," Dodson spoke in freezing accents. She turned on her heel and left the room.
But as Mary settled comfortably under the bedclothes to enjoy another hour's sleep, Dodson went into action. Downstairs in the kitchen, she had a brief consultation with Cook about the brewing of a nutritious stock. She then removed her large gray shawl from its hook by the kitchen door, left the cottage, and made her way up the path toward the Great House. Dear Mr Charles had been brought home yesterday in a very bad way; he had to be practically carried upstairs by Coney and Rodgers! Well! Mrs Charles or no Mrs Charles, the young squire's mother was going to hear about this!
That same morning found Anne Elliot at the desk in her bedchamber, intent on an important piece of correspondence. The laundered handkerchief was due to be returned today and she wanted to waste no time in sending it back to its owner. She nibbled on the end of her pen as she read through the letter she had written.
Enclosed with this letter you will find the handkerchief which you so generously lent to me at the Wentworth's wedding on Saturday last. I shall never forget your kindness to me on that day.
Enclosed with this letter you will find the handkerchief which you so generously lent to me at the Wentworth's wedding on Saturday last. I shall never forget your kindness to me on that day.
This was the third time she had re-read this letter; each time her dissatisfaction with it increased! Her words had the proper formality ... and her gratitude to him was genuine. But did she adequately convey her thankfulness? For he had comforted her so gently and had so patiently listened to all of her sorrows! And this letter sounds so stiff and distant! I must do better. She took up the pen again and put in:
Your words of comfort and encouragement meant more to me than you will ever know.
Anne looked at the words on the page with narrowed eyes. Indeed, he shall never know how much his words meant to me, for I do not tell him, do I? Dipping the pen into the inkwell, she added:
P.S. I am fine.
Oh yes, I am just fine, Anne thought, annoyed with herself for her inability to compose so much as a simple, heart-felt letter of thanks. Everything I add just makes it worse! 'Thank you for your kindness to me, sir, and, as I shall never see you again, you may be interested to know that I am 'fine"." I should tell him more. But what? She thought for a moment, and then added to the postscript:
Frederick Wentworth is now a distant memory to me.
"And I am a complete liar!" she murmured, "as well as monstrously selfish! For I do think of Frederick, sometimes! And I never once inquire after Captain Benwick's own grieving heart or so much as wish him well!" She got up from her desk, thoroughly disgusted with herself. The offending letter was fed to the fire; she watched with satisfaction as the edges of the paper curled when it burnt. 'now, to begin again," she murmured. Her mother had taught her that in order to write a truly good letter, she must picture in her mind the person to whom she was writing. She pulled her desk chair over to the hearth and began to think of him. They had sat before a fire like this several times at Uppercross. Anne closed her eyes in concentration.
"Poor Annie!" His hand gently brushed a stray lock of hair from her eyes. 'shall we escape? How about ..."
Anne's eyes flew open. 'not ... Barcelona!!" she cried aloud. 'not again!!" That foolish dream had intruded into her thoughts all week long! Anne ground her teeth. She was highly annoyed with this Captain Benwick -- the one who had sat on her bed (half-undressed!) and who had kissed her in such a passionately sensual way!
Just then a soft knock sounded at her bedchamber door. In response to Anne's reply, Elise entered, with the laundered item and a message. Her sister and Mrs Clay would be ready to depart at ten o"clock, and would she be pleased to join them downstairs at that hour?
Anne acknowledged the message and took Captain Benwick's beautifully starched handkerchief with a murmur of thanks. As soon as Elise left, she glared at it. 'so much trouble over something I would just as soon forget!" said she, and shoved it (carefully) into her desk drawer, to be attended to later.
"Post-haste, I believe this is called," James Benwick grumbled under his breath, as he steadied himself in the jolting, lurching mail coach. "It would figure." He had never thought about how the term had come into being. Probably from just such a hurried, 'hasty" trip in a 'post"- chaise! This particular vehicle was not well-sprung, and the road, though dry, was everywhere uneven. The many ruts and rills from the last rain had hardened and the effect was nearly like traveling over a washboard! Benwick set his teeth to keep them from rattling and continued to occupy the time in musing over descriptives relating to land travel. And then there's riding 'hell-for-leather," he thought, as he glanced at his fellow passengers, who all had expressions of grim weariness etched on their faces. Well, this punishing mode of travel is certainly 'hell-for-travelers," too! What a morning!
True to his word, the coachman had gotten things underway at a right early hour; now, sometime later, the wisdom of this plan was becoming apparent. There was a feeling of rain in the air, although none had come as yet. Overland travel in winter was never pleasant; but in the winter rain (and mud) it was far worse! And so the mail coach rattled its way over the dry road, stopping to change horses as often as possible, racing into the storm. All aboard were grimly determined do whatever was needful to reach their destination ahead of the downpour.
Benwick sighed in resignation. The last few hours were the most difficult of any trip, although he had to admit that it was worse when traveling by ship. Coming into port seemed to take an inordinate amount of time, especially one's home port ... and most especially when there was someone special waiting.
But at the end of this journey, no one would be waiting for him. Except tonight; as he lay alone in bed, he knew that memories would be waiting to overtake him ... as they had every night for a week. But these memories were not of Fanny Harville, not anymore. Instead, the face of a lovely young woman with large, compassionate brown eyes would float hauntingly through his dreams. The daughter of a baronet ... James sighed at the remembrance of her.
What am I thinking? He readjusted his hold on his package. Benwick, you are an idiotic, sentimental fool! he told himself, for perhaps the hundredth time since the wedding. She would no more consider you as a suitor than she would ... this ... thing! His lips twitched into a wry little smile as he studied the paper-covered bundle on his lap. Of all the nonsensical, bone-headed compulsions! He had purchased this small gardenia bush in London several days ago and now was stuck having to haul it around with him wherever he went! But the scent of the blossoms had overwhelmed him, and right there in that shop he had lived again in the memory of that bright winter afternoon at Uppercross. She had wept in his arms that day -- and she had worn a gardenia blossom in her hair. Even now his heart was wrung to think of that beautiful, heartbroken young woman, sharing the burdens of her very soul with him. So alone, so unnoticed and overlooked! But not by me!
Captain Benwick leaned his head back against the squabs of the seat and closed his eyes; Wordsworth's haunting lines about another such maiden rose in his mind.
She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love.
A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.
She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be ...
He halted here; Wordsworth went on to speak of Lucy being in her grave, which she certainly was not! He thought for a moment and changed the wording.
She lived unknown, and few could know
The woman that I see;
But I have glimps'd her heart, and oh,
The difference to me!
And oh, the difference to me ... A wave of tenderness welled up within him as those words echoed through his mind. Try as he might, he had been unable to banish her from his thoughts. Something had happened on that bench in the hedgerow, as he held her and consoled her. Without his even being aware of it, his heart had melded to hers. He wondered if he would ever be the same again.
Captain Benwick was brought back to his surroundings with a painful jolt; a deep rut in the road caused the coach to lurch abruptly to one side. "Blast!" he exclaimed, as he bashed his head against the window glass. "Uh ... sorry!" His muttered apology was lost among the other maledictions uttered by his fellow traveling companions. The coach continued on its way as before; timepieces were checked, familiar landmarks were pointed out, and speculations were passed 'round as to the time remaining before their arrival at their destination. Another hour. And ... another bruise! He grimaced a little as he rubbed the side of his face. This will surely improve your looks, Benwick! And your chances with her!
He straightened his hat and shifted the package he held on his lap. His thoughts continued to taunt him. Even if you could find her, how can you think she would ever have an interest in you? James sighed. He was under no illusions as to his appearance. He was not handsome nor was he hideously ugly; he was drearily ordinary. The reflection in the window glass beside him was indistinct, but he knew without looking what he would see. By this time of morning, his carefully arranged neckcloth would be rumpled, his shirt-points would be askew, and his hair would be in hopeless disarray!
The hair was his greatest trial. At different times he had attempted to improve his appearance by queuing it back, but this served only to emphasize the roundness of his face, making it appear (to his disgust) as if it were a wad of dough! He found it far better to leave his hair cropped off at the collar -- and over the years he had become inured to the wisecracks from his shipmates about his 'cherubic curls." But he was more mindful about wearing a hat nowadays, as there seemed to be less hair than formerly!
Benwick heaved another melancholy sigh as he turned his thoughts back to her. She has loved Wentworth! And waited for him to return, all these years! I am scuttled before I begin! For Frederick Wentworth was to James Benwick as a dashing seafaring hero straight from the pages of a book: handsome, intelligent, courageous, and decisive; an able and inspiring leader! Benwick picked at the paper covering of his package dejectedly. Wentworth was the quintessential sea captain, born to command -- even the greatest simpleton could see that! He had simply to stride up the gangway and onto the quarter-deck of a ship and the crew -- any crew -- instinctively responded with respect and deference! Whereas Benwick had to use all his wits to earn the following of his men, bit by bit. If he were to pursue Anne Elliot (and his success in such a 'campaign" was looking more and more improbable by the minute!), he knew it would be much the same; most likely it would end in disappointment.
At least I needn't worry about it for quite a while, he thought wearily. There was the legal business of Great Aunt Agatha's to contend with before he could begin to search for Anne. Perhaps by the time it was concluded, he would be able to think more rationally ... and could give it up. The obstacles were many and his 'qualifications" as a suitor for her hand were laughable! No, it is quite impossible, he sighed, and gazed at the passing countryside through the window. Doomed to failure, from beginning to end, in fact! For I have almost nothing to offer her, except myself. It seemed to be his lot in life, to face heartbreak and disappointment in love!
The vehicle began to slow as it approached a small settlement, presumably the location of the next coaching stop. The horn was blown to call for the change ... and James Benwick withdrew even more deeply into the world of his wistful thoughts. A quotation from his beloved Marmion came to mind.
The rose is fairest when 'tis budding new,
And hope is brightest when it dawns from fears.
The rose is sweetest wash'd with morning dew,
And love is loveliest when embalm'd in tears.
He stared absently out of the window and watched as the ostler brought out a fresh team of horses for the last leg of their journey. How true, he thought, pensively. My newfound love for Anne will likely die 'embalm'd in tears'.
And yet ... James took himself in hand; he was very tired and his gloomy thoughts were proof of his fatigue. Had he not told Anne that poetry was not a reliable guide for life? That she should hope for love again? He had truly meant that advice in a friendly way, to be for her best, without any reference to finding that love with himself. But he had not expected to miss her presence so acutely, or to find in her a friend whom he could love so completely! And I am thoroughly at a standstill, humanly speaking ...
As the coach came to a stop, the passengers inside began jostling one another, moving about to stretch their cramped limbs, muttering to one another in muted half-syllables. But Benwick heard and felt nothing. A fragment of a text ... taught him by his father years ago ... came into his thoughts just then. It was startling in its clarity; he could not ignore it: '...ye have not because ye ask not ...'
James drew in a breath ... and found that he was smiling, in spite of the gentle rebuke. What a gudgeon I am! I have not begun at the beginning, it appears. Very well. He tightened his hold on the gardenia in his lap ... and silently bowed his weary head. And then it was that he remembered: in that same Book it is also written, 'Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.'
First quotation from Lucy by William Wordsworth
Second quotation from Marmion, Canto iv. Stanza 1., by Sir Walter Scott
Continued in Part 6
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