A Most Delightful Summer
The next day, Robert had to leave early. He had to go to Kingston, with Harris, the shepherd, to sell some wool. But he promised his mother to be back until dinner.
When the dinner guests arrived, however, he had not yet arrived from Kingston, and his mother and sisters began to feel uneasy about that. Besides, big black clouds were gathering in the sky, and a thunderstorm was more than likely.
Mrs. Martin and her guests waited for more than half an hour, before they went into the dining room. Still no sign from Robert Martin or Harris. Mrs. Martin was worried, although she did not want to show it. It was not at all like her son to be late. She could not help remembering a day, nearly a year ago. It had been a day like this....
Harriet felt that Mrs. Martin was anxious, and was a bit uneasy herself. She wanted to help Mrs. Martin, but did not know how. Harriet was sure that nothing had happened to Mr Martin, but then, one can never be really sure.
Dinner was already over, and they all assembled in the drawing room. Mrs. Martin suggested a game of cards. She wanted to distract herself. Catherine preferred playing the piano, and George joined her. Elizabeth sat down in the window seat, pretending to read but occasionally gazing out of the window. So Harriet found herself at the card table with Mrs. Martin, Mrs. Mason and Mr Mason. They started to play, and soon Harriet noticed that Edward Mason was slowly, but surely drawing his chair closer to hers. "May I help you, Miss Smith," he asked.
"If you want to, sir," was Harriet's answer.
She was not at all pleased with Mr Edward Mason being so near her, but she did not know how to avoid it without being rude. She did not like Edward Mason. There was something - uncanny about him. He was not at all like his brother.
Half an hour later, Mr Martin had still not arrived. Mrs. Martin had no longer the strength to conceal her fear.
"Where can he be? What has happened to him," she cried. Elizabeth went to her mother and put her arm around her mother's shoulder. " I am sure he is fine, Mother. He will be here any minute." Mrs. Martin trembled.
"Miss Smith, would you be so kind as to go and ask Mrs. Simms to make some tea for me?"
"I can go, Mother," Catherine offered.
"No, child, please stay here with me."
Harriet rose. "I'll be back in a minute, Mrs. Martin." She felt a strong compassion for that lady. She seemed so extremely worried. Why?
Harriet went out into the hall and was just turning towards the kitchen, when the front door opened and Robert Martin entered the house. He was drenched, and looked pale and tired.
"Mr Martin," Harriet exclaimed. "Thank god you've come home at last!"
Robert smiled faintly. "Did you miss me, Miss Smith?"
"Of course we did! Your mother is exceedingly worried about you!"
He sighed. "I thought so. I'd better go and see her immediately."
With these words, he entered the drawing room, and Harriet went into the kitchen to ask Mrs. Simms for a cup of tea.
When she returned, Mr Martin was just in the middle of his narrative of what had happened.
Harris and he had been caught in the rain, and so they had taken shelter in an old barn by the road. First they had thought that it would clear up soon, but when it was still raining an hour later, they had decided to go on in spite of the rain. The road was not in a good condition, though, and so their journey home took them more time than usual.
"I can assure you, Mother, both Harris and I are perfectly well. We're just drenched to the skin, tired and hungry, that is all."
He turned to his guests. "I must apologize for my being so late and spoiling your evening. If you'll just excuse me for a few minutes now, I'll change and join you again afterwards."
Mrs. Martin was greatly relieved, and so were her daughters. They had all feared for the worst, although they would not have admitted it. After a few minutes, Robert joined them again, and as Mrs. Martin's anxiety had gone now, the evening turned out to be pleasant after all. The only thing that spoiled it, from Harriet's point of view, was that Edward Mason seemed to be determined to pay his attentions to her and that she could not get rid of him. Robert did notice that, too, and he decided to keep an eye on Edward Mason.
The guests had left, and Harriet was preparing to retire into her room, when she felt someone touching her arm.
"May I talk with you for a moment, Miss Smith?"
Harriet nodded. "Certainly, Mr Martin."
"Please take a seat. I think I owe you an explanation, Miss Smith."
"An explanation of what, Mr Martin?"
"Of what happened tonight."
"But you already told us, didn't you? "
"I told you what happened to me, yes, but I was thinking of explaining why my mother acted the way she did."
"Oh, I do not think I need an explanation, Mr Martin. She is your mother, so it is perfectly natural for her to worry if you do not return home in time."
Robert sighed. " That's not the only reason, I am afraid. You know my father died last year, don't you, Miss Smith?"
"Your sisters told me about that, yes."
"Did they tell you how he died?"
"It was an accident, wasn't it?"
"That's right. But I'll tell you more about the circumstances. He had some business in Kingston that day and he set off early in the morning, determined to be back by tea time. We weren't worried first, when he was late, because we thought that he was detained by one thing or the other. Then one of the stablemen came in and told me that my father's horse had just returned, all by itself, and that it was injured. So Harris and I went to look for my father."
He paused a moment and turned towards the window.
When we found him, it was already getting dark. He was still alive, but so weak, and I could see that he was badly hurt. We couldn't move him without help, so I decided to stay with him and sent Harris to Highbury to fetch Mr Perry and some men to help us."
He turned towards Harriet.
"I asked him what had happened, but he couldn't tell me. He said all he could remember was that he fell from his horse, nothing more.
All I could do for him was sit there with him and watch him die. When Harris arrived with some men and Mr Perry, there was nothing to be done for him any more."
"What a sad story, Mr Martin!"
"Well, when I didn't return from Kingston today..."
"Your mother was convinced that something had happened to you, too. Poor Mrs. Martin! What agony she must have suffered!"
"I told you this, Miss Smith, because I wanted you to know the reason for my mother's behaviour. She is not at all irrational. Her fear is reasonable, in a way."
"I am glad you told me, Mr Martin. I hope I can be of better use next time."
Robert smiled. "I hope there will not be a next time, Miss Smith."
Later, in her room, Harriet reflected on what Mr Martin had told her.
"It must be terrible to lose a beloved person like that," she thought. "Poor Mr Martin!"
The days went by. Harriet had been with the Martins for two weeks now. She had got used to everything on Abbey Mill Farm, and after the evening when Mr Martin had told her about about his fathere's death, she felt much more at ease in his presence. Somehow she knew that he wouldn't have told her about it if he hadn't liked her and trusted her.
Robert remembered this evening very often, too. He remembered the moment when he had entered the house, and had heard Miss Smith say,"Thank god you've come home at last!"
She had seemed so glad and relieved to see him - was that only on his mother's account? Or could he hope that she cared for him? Loved him, even? After all, since that evening, Miss Smith talked to him more often, and she did not look so reserved any more.
Harriet loved living on the farm. She soon made friends beside the Martins, like Harris, the shepherd. She had met him one morning when she was walking, and she had praised the flock so highly (especially the lambs), that he was quite fond of her. Soon Robert Martin could go nowhere on his farm without hearing Miss Smith praised.
George Mason was now a regular visitor on Abbey Mill Farm, and Harriet liked him very much. Mr Mason made her laugh very often, and she liked him even more when she saw the way he treated Catherine. They were so very much in love with each other, everybody could see that.
Elizabeth, although she was happy for her sister, was sometimes disappointed. Catherine had always been there for her, and now she did not have much time for her any more. She consoled herself with spending a lot of time with Harriet.
Harriet had never been so happy as at the moment. The Martins were the family she had always longed for. Catherine and Elizabeth could not have been dearer to her if they had been her sisters. Mrs. Martin treated her so kindly, just as Harriet had always wished her mother to be. And Mr Martin, well, she liked him, but she could not interpret his behaviour towards her. First, he had been rather reserved. Then he had been exceedingly gallant to her, and at the moment, it seemed, they were good friends. She decided to talk about it with Elizabeth. Elizabeth knew her brother very well, and maybe she could tell her what it all meant.
So, when they went for a walk one day, she asked Elizabeth, "Pray, Elizabeth, what do you think? Does your brother like me?"
Elizabeth stopped. "Of course he does. Why do you ask?"
Harriet sighed. "I don't know. It's just that he is so strange, sometimes."
"My brother strange? In what respect?"
Harriet hesitated. "I don't know how to express it, Elizabeth. But he looks at me in a strange way , sometimes, and he is so gallant....."
"So being gallant means being strange, Harriet?"
Harriet blushed. "No, you are right, it isn't."
Elizabeth looked at Harriet earnestly. "You can be absolutely sure, Harriet. My brother likes you very much. What about you? Do you like him?"
"Oh yes, I do! He's so nice, and so obliging."
Elizabeth smiled. "My plan is getting on pretty well," she thought. "Robert is already in love, and Harriet will soon be. Well done, Liz!"
They went on for a while. None of the ladies spoke a word. Suddenly they heard someone calling them from behind.
"Miss Martin! Miss Smith! Wait a moment, please!"
They turned around and saw Edward Mason coming towards them. Elizabeth sighed.
"Look at him! Why can't he be a bit more like his brother? He is such a bore! We'll have to walk with him, I'm afraid. It would be rude if we didn't." Harriet agreed.
When Edward Mason reached them, they both curtsied politely.
"What a pleasant surprise to meet you here, Mr Mason," Elizabeth said with a forced smile.
"Oh Miss Martin, you are very obliging! Miss Smith, your beauty is overwhelming, as always!"
Edward Mason looked at Harriet in a way that would have made any woman blush with shame and that made her hair stand on end. She did not exactly understand what this sort of look meant, but she was sure it meant nothing good.
So, when they walked on, she took care to have Elizabeth between herself and Edward Mason. Edward's behaviour had roused Elizabeth's suspicion, too.
As soon as they arrived at home and Edward Mason had left, she asked, "Harriet, did you notice that Mr Edward Mason was paying particular attentions to you this afternoon?"
Harriet sighed. "Although I don't know why. I never did anything to encourage him."
Elizabeth nodded thoughtfully. "That is right. Well, we'll better take care."
Ten minutes later, Mrs. Martin and Catherine joined them. They had visited Mrs. Mason and had just returned. Catherine was excited, because she had some news to tell them.
"Harriet, do you remember when we met Miss Woodhouse and her governess in winter?"
Harriet nodded and looked at her expectantly.
"Well, you said that there was a rumour that she was engaged to Mr Weston."
"Yes, I did."
"That rumour is true, Harriet! Miss Taylor is going to marry Mr Weston in August!"
Harriet smiled. "I thought so. We know that Miss Nash is the best informed lady in Highbury, and she told me of it in the first place." Everybody laughed.
"I wonder what Miss Woodhouse will do without Miss Taylor," Harriet went on.
"As far as I know, she has not got another companion."
Elizabeth answered, "I am sure we will not have to worry about Miss Woodhouse. She will find someone else, I guess, and perhaps she will also marry soon."
Harriet laughed. "And who will be Miss Woodhouse's husband?"
Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know. Mr Elton, perhaps? Or Mr Knightley?"
"Now Liz, don't be ridiculous, "Catherine exclaimed laughingly. "Mr Knightley, indeed. He is much older than Miss Woodhouse."
"Oh, we'll see. But another topic. Did you notice, Cathy, that the day after tomorrow is Harriet's birthday?"
Catherine looked surprised. "Oh dear, I nearly forgot about it! I'm so glad you reminded me."
Elizabeth grinned. "You have so many things to think about at the moment, I think we can forgive you."
Later in the evening, they were all in the drawing room. Elizabeth opened the window and leaned out.
"What a lovely evening! Why don't we all go out for a walk?"
Robert went over to the window, too. "But it's already getting dark, Liz."
Elizabeth pointed to the full moon. "I don't think it is getting that dark tonight."
Robert laughed. "Very well then. Let's go for a walk!"
He turned around. "Does anybody want to join us?"
George Mason, who was sitting between Harriet and Catherine, said, "That sounds like fun! Shall we join them?"
Catherine approved. George turned to Harriet. "Miss Smith! You'll come with us, too, won't you?"
Harriet got up. "I should be glad to. I'll go and fetch my shawl."
Ten minutes later, they met at the front door. They decided to walk to the wood. While Harriet had been in her room, they had asked Robert to walk with Harriet ahead of the others, so they could talk about Harriet's birthday without her overhearing it. Robert was glad to do so. He offered Harriet his arm, and they went out into the evening. It was nearly dark now, but they could see the outlines of the trees against the horizon. Some stars were visible in the sky, and thanks to the full moon, they could see everything around them quite clearly. The scent of flowers was in the air, and they could hear the party behind them, giggling, whispering and laughing.
"They must have something very amusing to talk about, " Harriet said.
Robert gave a short laugh. "I think so," he said.
Harriet looked at him curiously. "Do you know what they are talking about?"
"Not exactly, no."
"Not exactly? So you do have an idea?"
Robert laughed. "Miss Smith, really, I cannot tell you what they are talking about."
They went on, and after a few minutes, they could not hear the others any more. Harriet turned around, but she could not see anyone.
"Mr Martin! They are gone!"
Robert looked around. "Well, I'm sure they are not too far. And I absolutely trust my friend George. He will take good care of my sisters, I am sure." He paused for a moment.
"But if you are afraid of walking on without them, we'd better walk back."
"Oh no, that is not necessary. They will turn up sooner or later, I think."
They came to a clearing, and Harriet decided to rest for a while. She sat down on a log, and Robert took a seat next to her.
After a while, Harriet said," Will you meet Mr Harris tomorrow, Mr Martin?"
Robert looked surprised. "Harris ? I think so, yes. Why do you ask, Miss Smith?"
"Remember me to him, will you? He is such a nice fellow!"
Robert laughed. "Oh yes, he is. I'll tell him you inquired after him. He'll be very honoured, I guess. Did you ever meet his son?"
"No, I didn't. How old is he?"
"He is nine or ten years old, and a real rascal sometimes. But one can never be really angry with him."
Harriet laughed. "That sounds interesting! I'd like to meet him."
"Well, if you happen to see a boy who is up to some mischief or other, that is him."
They were silent for a while.
Then Robert pointed to the sky. "Look, Miss Smith!"
Harriet looked up and saw a streak of light in the sky. "A falling star! How beautiful," she sighed.
Robert looked at her from the side. "How beautiful she is," he thought, and he longed to put his arms around her, kiss her, tell her about his feelings...
"Did you make your wish, Miss Smith?"
"Oh yes, I did. I wished..."
"Shhh, Miss Smith. Don't tell me, or your wish won't come true."
Now Harriet noticed his gaze, and somehow it made her feel strange. Her heart was beating, and she looked into his eyes. There it was, the same strange look he had given her so often, only it didn't make her feel nervous now. There was so much feeling in the way he looked at her...
"Oh look, here they are," Elizabeth shouted. Both Robert and Harriet jerked and turned towards her.
"We've been looking for you for hours! Naughty Harriet, I already thought you had eloped with my brother."
Harriet blushed, and Robert said," Don't be ridiculous , Liz. Where have you been, by the way?"
"We have been walking over there."
Robert got up and assisted Harriet in getting up, too.
"I guess we'd better go back home now."
On the way back to the farm, Harriet thought of that enchanted moment with Mr Martin. Could it be that he was in love with her? No, certainly not. She was not the sort of girl men fell in love with. But then she had to admit that she would have nothing against Mr Martin being in love with her.
Robert, too, was thinking about that moment. It had certainly been the most beautiful moment in his life. And he could not help wondering what would have happened if Elizabeth had turned up a few minutes later.
Chapter 19 /font>
The next morning, Robert met Harris.
"Good morning, Harris! Is everything alright with the flock?"
Harris overlooked the flock with pride. "Jus' look at `em, sir! Never seen so fine a flock before."
Robert laughed. "You've done good work, Harris! By the way, one of the ladies wants me to greet you. She called you a `fine fellow' yesterday."
"Are you talking of Miss Smith?"
"Oh, such a pretty gal, Miss Smith is! An' as sweet as an angel!"
"Well, I wanted to ask a favour from you, Harris."
"Favour? What favour?"
Robert grinned. "I'd like to borrow your son."
Harris looked at Robert, all astonishment. "Wha' do you want that rascal for? Y' know wha' he did yesterday?"
Robert laughed. "I'd rather not know. Well, tomorrow is Miss Smith's birthday. I thought little David would like to come and sing to her."
Harris thought for a moment. Then he said," An' what if he don't behave?"
"Oh, I'm sure he will behave. Tell him he'll get a huge piece of cake if he does well."
"Now that'll make him behave, I'm sure. I never seen such a glutton as me son is!"
So both men agreed that Davey Harris was to come to the farm house the next evening.
Mrs. Martin, meanwhile, asked Harriet to go for a walk with her in the garden. She wanted to give her daughters enough time to prepare their birthday surprise for Harriet. And besides, she wanted to talk to Harriet and find out more about her feelings.
"Do you like being here, Miss Smith?"
"Oh yes, Mrs. Martin, very much. It is so very beautiful!"
"So you do not mind living on a farm?"
"No, Mrs. Martin. To be honest, I always wanted to live on a farm, since I was a little girl!"
"Oh yes, I spent my early childhood on Mrs. Jones's farm. I loved living there."
"Mrs. Jones's farm? I don't think I ever heard about Mrs. Jones. Is that farm anywhere near Highbury?"
"Oh no, it's not in Surrey at all. It's in Berkshire."
"I see. So you are used to that sort of life."
After a while, Mrs. Martin said, "It will soon be harvest time, Miss Smith, and that means that the four of us will be alone very often. My son will have a lot to do." She cast a sidelong glance at Harriet to see her reaction.
Harriet seemed disappointed, but she said," Mr Martin works very hard. You must be very proud of your son."
"It's impossible for anybody to be a better son than he is, and I am sure, whenever he marries, he will make a good husband too."
She looked at Harriet, who seemed to be embarrassed. "Not that I want him to marry, that is. I am in not hurry at all."
They arrived at the summer house. "What do you think Miss Smith, shall we have tea in the summer house tomorrow?"
"Oh, that would be lovely!"
Mrs. Martin smiled. "Very well then."
This plan, however, had to be given up the next day. There had been a thunderstorm in the night, and now it was raining continuously. Harriet was disappointed, but she did not want to show it. She had imagined a delightful afternoon with her friends, and now they were sitting in the drawing room and felt rather bored. Besides, Harriet did not feel really well, she had had a headache all night, and now she felt tired and weak.
"I hope I am not falling ill," she thought. "I don't want to be a burden to the Martins."
She was sitting at the desk, writing a letter to Mrs. Goddard and suddenly felt giddy.
"Are you unwell, Miss Smith?" Harriet looked up and saw that Mr Martin was looking at her anxiously. She smiled.
"I am well, thank you Mr Martin."
He gave her an inquiring, earnest look. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, Mr Martin, I am sure. I am just a little tired, that is all."
Catherine looked at her and said, "In that case, Harriet, you should lie down a bit."
Harriet got up, and had to seize the chair, otherwise she might have lost her balance.
"I think that is a good idea, Catherine."
Catherine had noticed Harriet's unsteadiness and exchanged a worried glance with her brother.
"Do you want me to help you, Harriet?"
"No, thank you Catherine. There is nothing wrong with me that cannot be made amends with a little sleep."
Harriet left the room, and Robert turned to his mother.
"Do you think she told us the truth, Mother? I thought she looked rather unwell."
Mrs. Martin thought for a moment, then she said," I'll go and check on Miss Smith later. Perhaps she is really just tired. We'll let her sleep for a while and see later."
"Do you think we should cancel the invitations for tonight?"
Mrs. Martin shook her head. "I don't think so. Miss Smith has been looking forward to this evening. It would be a disappointment for her."
"But if Miss Smith is not well?"
"In that case, I am sure she will stay in her room and will be excused."
There was a knock at the door, and Harriet woke up. When she lifted her head, she felt the pain in her head again. It felt as if someone was hitting her with a hammer from the inside of her skull.
"Wait a moment," she said, got up and slipped into her dressing gown. She heard Elizabeth's voice from the outside.
"Are you alright, Harriet?"
"Yes I am. You can come in if you like."
The door opened, and Elizabeth entered the room.
"Good lord, Harriet, you look as pale as a ghost!"
Harriet smiled faintly. "I've just got a bit of a headache, nothing serious, I assure you. Am I late?"
"Not at all. Do you want me to help you?"
Harriet shook her head. "No, I'll be ready directly." She frowned. "If I could only get rid of this headache."
"I'll go and ask Mrs Simms. Maybe she knows something."
Elizabeth left the room to go to the kitchen, and Harriet started getting dressed. She was nearly finished, when Elizabeth returned with a small bottle in her hand.
"Here you are, Harriet. Rub your forehead and temples with this and you'll soon feel better. By the way, the Masons have just arrived."
Harriet thanked Elizabeth and asked her to go downstairs and excuse her for a few more minutes. She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. The pain was getting worse. If only she could stay in her room now! But she had to go downstairs, everybody was waiting for her. Harriet sighed, got up and went to the door.
She had just gone halfway down the stairs, when the drawing room door opened and Catherine looked out. " There you are, Harriet! I've been worried about you!"
She looked at Harriet earnestly. "Are you feeling better now?"
Harriet smiled. "Much better Catherine, thank you."
Catherine led her into the drawing room, and Harriet was welcomed by everyone who was there. They all expressed their pleasure of seeing Harriet, and they wished her all the best for her birthday.
During dinner, Harriet forced herself to eat. She was hungry, but the thought of eating made her feel sick. Still, she did not want to offend Mrs Martin.
Robert watched her from a distance. She looked so pale. "Poor girl," he thought. "She is so brave."
Edward Mason was talking to Harriet continuously, but she did not really listen. Some polite remarks now and then were all she could manage.
"What an arrogant fellow,"Robert thought. "Can't he see she's not well? Can't he just leave her alone?"
George noticed that, too, and tried to silence his brother by giving him warning looks from the other side of the table. Edward, however, did not care. He was in high spirits and wanted to make himself agreeable, not seeing that he achieved just the opposite.
After dinner, the ladies went into the drawing room. Elizabeth had noticed before that Harriet had scarcely eaten anything, and so she asked her, "Are you sure you want to stay with us, Harriet? You look so pale, everybody knows you're not feeling well. Please do not feel obliged to stay if you don't feel up to it. Everybody would understand you."
Harriet shook her head. "It's not that bad, really, Elizabeth. And you have taken so much trouble with preparing this evening, I would feel guilty if I spoiled it. I'll take a seat by the fire, and I am sure I will be fine."
Elizabeth led her to a seat, made her sit down and said, "Very well then, Harriet. But promise me to go to your room as soon as you're feeling worse."
Harriet smiled. "I promise."
When the gentlemen joined them, they brought a boy with them. It was Davey Harris, the shepherd's son. The boy seemed to be ill at ease. He was wearing his Sunday clothes, which made him feel even more uncomfortable. And then, all the ladies were looking at him, and Miss Smith looked like an angel, just as his father had told him, and...
"Mr Martin," he whispered and tugged at Robert's sleeve.
"Do I have to congratulate first or do you want me to sing first?"
"The congratulations first, David."
The boy stepped forward to Harriet, bowed, and said, "Miss Smith, happy birthday, and many happy returns, an' me father and ma sends their com- com- compliments...and....and..."
He got stuck in his speech and blushed. He looked into Miss Smith's face and blushed even more.
Harriet smiled at the boy radiantly. "Thank you very much, David. You did this very nicely. Give my regards to your mother and father. They must be very proud of you."
"No they ain't. Me Dad always calls me a rascal."
Harriet laughed. "I am sure he is proud of you, no matter what he says, David."
Robert touched the boy's shoulder. "Now you can sing your song, David."
The boy sang a folk song in a beautiful, clear voice. His audience applauded delightedly.
"I am sure you did all this for me, Mr Martin," Harriet said. "I don't know how to thank you. You are always so friendly."
Robert looked into her eyes. "Your happiness is a sufficient reward for me, Miss Smith."
Then he turned to David. "And now to your reward, David. Are you hungry?"
The boy nodded.
"That's good! Off you go to the kitchen. Mrs Simms has saved a huge piece of cake for you."
The boy beamed. "Thank you sir! Thank you so much!"
He bowed and left the room.
Harriet turned to Robert. "That was the infamous Davey Harris, then? He looked rather harmless to me."
Robert laughed. "That's his secret, I guess. Nobody ever suspects him until he's done some mischief."
Harriet laughed, too.
"That's a beautiful shawl you are wearing, Miss Smith."
"Do you like it, Mr Martin?"
"Oh yes, it is very becoming."
Harriet smiled. "Your sisters gave it to me as a birthday present. You are all so kind to me."
"It's just what you deserve, Miss Smith."
Harriet was silent for a few moments, then she said, "I think I'll go and give David Harris a little reward as well."
She got up and left the room, heading upstairs to her room. Nobody noticed that Edward Mason left the room shortly afterwards.
Harriet had been in the kitchen for a few minutes, talking to Mrs Simms and giving Davey Harris some money. When she left the kitchen to join the party in the drawing room, she noticed that someone was standing in the shadow of the staircase, waiting for her. It was Edward Mason.
"Ah, Miss Smith, here you are. I've been waiting for you."
"Why, Mr Mason?"
He smiled at her in an unpleasant manner. "Don't pretend you don't know, Miss Smith. You have been very unfriendly to me this evening."
"I am sorry if you had that impression, Mr Mason. I had no intention of slighting you."
With these words, Harriet tried to walk past Edward Mason, but without success. He grabbed hold of her arm and said, "Not so hasty, Miss Smith." Harriet looked at his face. He had a vicious look in his eyes. Suddenly she was afraid. What did he want?
"Mr Mason, if you don't let me go at once, I'll scream!"
"And cause a scandal? Oh no, Miss Smith, you won't. I'll let you go in a minute, anyway. All I want is a kiss."
Harriet shook her head. "No!"
"I'm afraid no is the wrong answer, " he said.
"I think it is better if you leave my house immediately, Edward Mason!"
Edward turned around and was startled at seeing his brother and Robert Martin. Robert's voice sounded dangerously calm, but his eyes were telling a different story.
"Don't be mistaken by the fact that I'm saying this calmly," he said. "Get out now."
Harriet had never seen Robert Martin like this. He was looking at Edward Mason coldly, his face seemed like stone. And his eyes......they were cold , too, but flashing with anger.
"But I..." Edward Mason stammered.
"I don't want to hear any excuses. You have behaved in a detestable manner to one of my guests. Now leave before I lose control of myself."
Edward looked at his brother. "But..."
George interrupted him. "I think he is right. Leave, I'll think of an excuse."
Seeing that there was no way out of this situation, Edward left. Robert turned to Harriet, who was still standing there, trembling with fear.
"Are you allright, Miss Smith?"
Harriet didn't manage to say anything.
"I'm...I'm allright, thank you."
Robert took her arm and led her to a chair. "Take a seat, Miss Smith."
He looked at George. "Fetch my sister, George, but don't tell her..."
"Of course." George disappeared in the drawing room.
"Oh, Mr Martin, I'm so sorry. I feel so ashamed!"
Robert looked at her. "If I could only hold her," he thought, "without frightening her even more."
"Miss Smith," he answered," there is nothing you have to be ashamed of. You did nothing wrong. It wasn't your fault."
"Mr Martin, please don't tell anybody. I couldn't bear it!"
Harriet's face was now streaked with tears, and had Edward Mason still been there, Robert might have knocked his teeth out.
"I promise I won't tell anybody, Miss Smith," he said and gave Harriet a handkerchief.
"And I'll ask Mr Mason to keep quiet about this incident as well. I am sure he will."
"Thank you, Mr Martin." She returned the handkerchief. Then the drawing room door opened and Catherine hurried out.
"Dear Harriet! Is this really true? You fainted?"
George, who was behind her, gave Robert an imploring look.
"Yes, Cathy, that's right. Would you help Miss Smith and bring her to her room?"
"Of course." She went over to Harriet. "Just lean on me, Harriet, will you?"
Harriet thanked Catherine, and they both went upstairs.
"I thought it was better not to tell her the truth,"George said. "If you choose to tell her...."
"No, I won't. Miss Smith asked me not to tell anybody."
"Alright then. If anybody asks, we'll tell them what I told Catherine."
They went back to the drawing room, and naturally everybody wanted to know what had happened to Miss Smith. George repeated his story, and when Catherine returned, everybody inquired after Harriet's state anxiously. Catherine told them that Harriet was in bed now, and that she was rather well, considering the circumstances.
The guests left shortly afterwards. Before George left, Robert touched his arm.
" You'd better keep your brother away from here for a while. I don't know what I'll do to him if he comes here again."
George nodded, and left.
Harriet didn't get much sleep that night. Her headache had become worse, she couldn't move without feeling like a lightning striking her head. The tears were running down her cheeks, and she cried desperately. The pain in her head was nothing in comparison to her heartache. She could not forget what had happened, and the sight of Robert Martin when he had been standing there with George Mason was something she would never be able to forget for the rest of her life. He had been a completely different person, not at all like the gentle, amiable man she knew and loved. Yes, she loved Robert Martin, or at least she thought so, but what did it matter now?
"I'm sure he hates me for that," she sobbed. She had been so afraid of him in that moment, he had been so cold, and ....
On the other hand, he had been really nice and helpful. "No, that was just because he didn't want to upset me," she thought. "He'll wait until I'm better, and then he'll send me back to Mrs Goddard's."
She tried to get to sleep, but without success. Whenever she closed her eyes, the whole scene passed before her again.
"If only I could die now," she sobbed. "I'd be better off then!"
After a while she fell asleep, but it was a sleep troubled with nightmares, and more than once Harriet woke up only to realize that she was still as miserable as before.
First thing the next morning, George Mason sent a letter to Abbey Mill Farm to inquire after Miss Smith. While he was waiting for a reply, he decided to talk to his brother. What on earth had caused him to act in this way?
He went to Edward's room, knocked and entered the room without waiting for an answer. Edward was just getting dressed and looked at his brother in a hostile way.
"So, Mr Know-It-All Mason has come to tell me off, has he," he said tauntingly.
George slammed the door shut.
"You have no reason at all to talk to me like that, Edward. Have you gone completely mad?"
Edward had finished dressing now.
"You can talk as long as you like, George. I'm not going to listen. If you want to stay here and talk to the wall, well, suits me, but I'll leave now."
He went towards the door but didn't get very far. George seized him by his collar and pushed him back.
"You can choose, Edward. You can listen to me, or you can listen to our father. If he finds out what has happened yesterday, you can forget about your plans once for all. I haven't told him yet, but I'm sure he might be interested."
"In that case, you'll ruin Miss Smith's reputation."
"No, I won't, I'll only ruin yours, and you know that."
Edward was silent for a while.
"I'm waiting, Edward!"
"Alright, alright," Edward finally said, reluctantly. "I'll listen."
"Good. So why did you behave in such a disgusting manner?"
Edward shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. Just for fun, I guess."
"Just for fun ? You must be mad to do a thing like that just for fun! "
"Perhaps I'm in love with her?"
George shook his head. "No, you're not. If you were, you couldn't treat her the way you did. That isn't love, that's something completely different. You don't know what love is."
"Ah, don't I?"
"To love a woman means to take care of her, care for her more than you do for yourself, and it means that you would never, under no circumstances, want to hurt her. You wouldn't force her to do something that she doesn't want to do. You'd rather die than let this happen. This is love, Edward."
"Have you finished your sermon now? You should be a clergyman instead of a lawyer, you know. You're good at preaching."
There was a knock at the door, and a maid brought a letter for Mr Mason. George took the letter, opened it and read it. It was from Catherine Martin, informing him that Miss Smith had not been able to leave her bedroom this morning, that she was feeling worse and that Mr Martin had therefore sent for Mr Perry. George gave the letter to his brother.
"There, read it! You'd better face the consequences of what you've done! I hope you're proud. Well done, Edward Mason!"
Edward read the letter and looked at his brother. He seemed alarmed.
"What does that mean?"
"That means that Miss Smith is ill. She was feeling unwell yesterday, and I fear that your conduct has made it worse."
"But I didn't want that!"
"Oh, I'm sure you didn't want that. All you wanted was a little fun, right? A kiss, maybe more? And Miss Smith was just the right sort of girl for it. Very pretty, but shy and easily frightened. And, what makes it even better, without any connections. You know what, Edward? I despise you. I never thought I would say such a thing to my own brother, but it is true. I despise you and I am ashamed of you."
Edward was quiet and read the letter again.
"Is there nothing I can do? "
"Are you asking for my advice?"
"Yes, I do. You are still my brother, you know."
"What do you think you ought to do? "
"Well, I think I'll apologize first..."
"I'll go to Abbey Mill Farm and ask Miss Smith to forgive me."
George shook his head. "I can tell you, if you only get near Abbey Mill Farm, Robert Martin will either set the dogs on you or beat the daylights out of you. I, personally, would prefer the dogs."
"Is he really so angry?"
" Even worse. I've never seen him like this before, and I`ve known him all my life."
"So what shall I do?"
"First of all, try to find a reason to leave us, or our parents will want to know why you don't come with us when we're visiting the Martins."
Edward nodded. "One of my university friends has invited me...."
"Good. Write him that you'll accept the invitation and leave as soon as possible. And then write two more letters. One to Miss Smith, and one to Robert Martin. Tell them how sorry you are for what you've done. I'll take these letters to Abbey Mill Farm myself."
Edward sat down at the desk. "Will you help me? "
"No. You must find the right words yourself."
An hour later, George Mason arrived at Abbey Mill Farm. He had his brother's letters with him, and he knew that his mission here was difficult. He knew Robert Martin would not be pleased about that letter, that he might not be willing to forgive Edward, but George sincerely hoped that he might listen to George's arguments. After all, Robert was a sensible man.
When he was alone with Robert and watched him read Edward's letter, he felt that his task was more difficult than he had thought. Robert's face hardened, and the flash in his eyes made George anxious. After Robert had finished reading, he threw the letter on the fire. Then he sat down and looked straight into George's eyes.
George didn't quite understand him. "Pardon? "
"He feels sorry?"
"He does. You should have seen him this morning."
"He'd better thank his creator that I didn't. If he had stayed just one minute longer yesterday, I'd have made him feel sorry."
"I can't talk to you when you're like that."
Robert sighed. "I'm sorry, George. I know it's not your fault, but he's your brother. You take his side, naturally."
"No, I don't. We've both seen what happened. How can you think that I'm on his side ? All I want is to bring that matter to a conclusion without attracting attention."
"So do I."
"Well, on whose side am I, then?"
Robert thought for a while. Then he said, " Your brother has written a letter to Miss Smith, too?"
"Yes, he has."
"Would you mind giving it to me ? We can't expect her to read any letters today. I'll hand it over to her as soon as she feels better again. I hope it won't be distressing for her."
"I read it. There is nothing distressing about it. He just wrote that he felt sorry for what he did and asked her forgiveness."
George took the letter and gave it to Robert, who put it into a drawer in his desk.
"Edward will leave us next Monday. He's going to visit a friend in Norwich. I thought it would be better if he left us for a while. I know it is much to ask for, after all that has happened, but would you allow him to come here once more and take his leave?"
"That thought doesn't please me at all, but I'm afraid it is necessary. It might arouse suspicion if he didn't."
George rose. "I'll leave you, then. Your sister is with Miss Smith, I guess?"
"I think so, yes. Do you want me to send for her?"
"No, please don't disturb her. But give my regards to her when you see her, will you?"
"I'll come back tomorrow, Robert." George smiled. "Cheer up! I know everything will turn out well."
Robert sighed. "I hope it will."
Robert stayed in his study for a while. He wanted to be alone with his thoughts. Since last evening he was absolutely sure that Harriet Smith was the woman with whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life.
But he also knew that it would be the most inappropriate moment if he told her so now. Not after all that had happened. She would not believe that he really loved her. She wouldn't believe that men can love at all.
"And I can't blame her for it," he thought. "The best thing to do is to leave her alone for a while. I don't want to spoil everything by choosing the wrong moment."
There was a knock at the door.
Elizabeth entered the room. "I just wanted to tell you that Mr Perry left a few minutes ago."
Robert looked at his sister anxiously. "What did he say?"
"Well, he said that he couldn't find any symptoms of a serious illness."
"Thank God !"
"He said her condition might have been caused by some great distress. All she needs is peace and quiet and enough sleep. Rob?"
"What happened yesterday evening? Does Edward Mason have something to do with it?"
Robert was surprised. "Liz......"
"I'm not stupid, you know. Mr Mason comes into the drawing room and tells us that Edward Mason had to leave, because he remembered an appointment. Then he goes to Cathy and tells her that Harriet has fainted. All I had to do was use my head ! What happened?"
"Liz, I don't want to talk about it."
"I'm right , then."
"Liz, if you want to know what has happened, don't ask me. I can't tell you. I promised not to."
"To Edward Mason?"
"I promised Miss Smith that I won't tell anybody, and I'm going to keep my word."
"I'll ask Harriet as soon as she feels better."
"Wait until she chooses to tell you. I'm sure she will, one day. If you ask her now, it will upset her again."
Elizabeth nodded. "Do you want to see her, Rob?"
" I don't think that would be a good idea. I'll wait until she is well enough to leave her room."
"I'll go back to her room, then. I just wanted to tell you that she is not very ill. No fever, just a headache. She'll get better soon."
Elizabeth turned to go.
"Liz? Tell Miss Smith I send my best wishes."
Elizabeth smiled and nodded.
Elizabeth came into Harriet's room with a tray.
"Harriet, it's time for you to eat something. You haven't had anything since yesterday !"
"I can't, Elizabeth. The thought of eating makes me sick."
"Harriet ! You must ! How are you going to get better ? Come, I'll help you."
Harriet sobbed. "I'm so sorry, Elizabeth ! I hate being a nuisance to you!"
"Harriet ! For shame! You mustn't talk like that! You a nuisance ? Who said so?"
"Nobody, but you have so much trouble just because of me, I'm quite ashamed of myself."
"Harriet, there is no reason for you to feel like that. We are all very fond of you, you are our friend. What sort of friends would we be if we didn't do everything for you gladly? Now, come and eat something. Do me the favour. Please."
Harriet sat up in her bed, closing her eyes because she felt a flash of pain in her head again.
"Allright, I'll try to."
Elizabeth smiled. "That's a good girl!"
Harriet ate a little, but then she put the tray aside. "Thank you very much, but I can't eat any more."
"Very well then. But I'll leave the tray here, just in case. By the way, my brother sends his best wishes and hopes you'll soon be better."
"He was very worried about you."
"Really?" Harriet smiled faintly. "Tell him I'm already feeling a bit better."
Harriet stayed in her room for two more days. Her headache had ceased, but she had still been very weak and tired. When she woke up in the morning of the third day, she felt fresh and rested. She got up and dressed herself.
"How wonderful," she thought. "It's like being born again!"
She entered the dining room and found that the Martins were already there. Mr Martin rose.
"Miss Smith! Good morning! I am so glad to see you're well again!" Harriet looked at him anxiously, but his face expressed nothing but genuine pleasure to see her.
"Thank you very much, Mr Martin."
Elizabeth smiled at her. "Good morning, Harriet! You look much better today. Will you do me the favour of walking with me after breakfast?"
Robert looked at his sister reproachfully. "Liz, you cannot be serious about that. You can't expect Miss Smith to walk with you on the first day she's feeling better. It wouldn't do her good!"
"On the contrary, Rob! I think fresh air and exercise will do Harriet good."
Catherine intervened. "Why don't you let Harriet decide for herself? I'm sure she will know best what is good for her."
They all looked at Harriet, who was quite perplexed. She didn't know what to do.
Finally she said, "Oh, I , erm.... I think....a short walk will do no harm."
Elizabeth smiled at her brother triumphantly.
"We won't walk very far, Harriet. I promise you to go back as soon as you want me to. Don't hesitate to tell me."
So, half an hour later, they went for a walk. Harriet soon felt that she had not yet recovered her full strength.
"Can we sit down somewhere, Elizabeth? I'm afraid I'm already tired."
They sat down at the river bank.
"Isn't that a beautiful spot, Harriet? My brother and I used to go fishing here when we were little."
"Were you allowed to fish here?"
"Not really, no." Elizabeth laughed. "But nobody really cared. Robert never wanted me to go with him. I was his little sister and he always tried to get rid of me. So I always followed him secretly." She grinned. " He never had the heart to send me back home again, so I was allowed to stay, provided that I didn't bother him. I had a special way of looking at him that never failed. Somehow it doesn't work that well now."
"What about your sister? Did she come with you, too?"
"No, Cathy was much more girl-like than I was. She still is. She is more like our mother, while Robert and I are much like our father. Robert, especially. Well, shall we go back?"
"Can we stay a few more minutes?"
"Sure. Look who's coming over there."
Elizabeth pointed to the wood. Harriet turned and saw Davey Harris walking towards them. He had his hands in his trouser pockets and was whistling a song. When he noticed the two ladies, he grinned, waved frantically and shouted, "Hey, Miss Martin, Miss Smith! What the........ I mean, what are you doin' here?"
Harriet smiled at him and said," We are going for a walk. What about you?"
"I'm lookin' for stones. Flat stones."
Elizabeth frowned. "What do you need them for? "
"Davey Harris," Elizabeth said severely,"you haven't got a catapult, have you?"
"Don't lie to me, I know perfectly well what sort of stones you are looking for."
Harriet looked at the boy earnestly. "You know these catapults can be dangerous."
Davey looked at them with a sheepish grin. Then he pulled a catapult out of his pocket and gave it to Harriet.
"Here, Miss. Take it."
Harriet was surprised. "What for?"
"If you don't want me to use it, I don't need it."
Elizabeth laughed. "Spoken like a true gentleman! Say, Davey, would you like to accompany us on our walk?"
Davey nodded. All the way home, he was talking and talking to Harriet. He told her about the sheep and the dogs, his father and mother and his three little sisters. Harriet was very much amused by the boy's stories. He had such a droll way of expressing himself, she couldn't help laughing. She was still laughing when they entered the drawing room.
"Harriet," Elizabeth said,"You have a new admirer. He'd make you an offer of marriage if it wasn't for the difference in age."
Robert, who was sitting in his chair and reading his newspaper, raised his eyebrows in surprise and said," And who is that gentleman, Miss Smith?"
The two ladies looked at each other and started to laugh again.
"It's Davey Harris, Rob," Elizabeth cried. "Harriet has completely charmed him. He has even given her his catapult!"
Now Robert laughed, too. "Oh dear, poor boy! Miss Smith, you should hold it in honour. Such a present from a boy like Davey Harris is like an engagement ring."
"How do you know, Rob?"
"Well, Liz, how do I know? I used to be a boy, too, and I used to have a catapult as well."
His eyes sparkled merrily. "And I would never have given it to a girl. In fact, it must still be around somewhere."
Elizabeth looked at her brother mischievously. "No girl ? Not even...."
Robert laughed. "Shh, Liz! Miss Smith doesn't have to know all my secrets, does she?"
In the evening, they were all sitting in the drawing room. Robert was reading to them, and the ladies were doing their needlework. Robert glanced at Harriet now and then. She was still pale, but looked as pretty as always. "I hate to trouble her again," he thought. "But I promised George to to give her that damn letter. And Edward Mason will come here tomorrow. That means I'll have to give her that letter either tonight or tomorrow morning."
He couldn't think of an unsuspicious way of giving her the letter now, so he decided to wait for her in the hall in the morning.
When Harriet descended the stairs the next morning, she found that Robert Martin was waiting for her.
"Miss Smith? May I have a word with you? It will only take a couple of minutes."
"Oh no, " Harriet thought. "Now he is going to tell me that I'm no longer welcome in his house."
Robert looked at her inquiringly. "Miss Smith? Are you unwell?"
"No, Mr Martin, no.....I am......very well, thank you."
Robert led Harriet into the study. "Take a seat, Miss Smith."
He opened a drawer and took a letter out of it.
"Miss Smith, there are a couple of things I have to tell you. You may already have noticed that I am referring to..... Edward Mason."
Harriet turned pale.
"Miss Smith, I do not want to worry you. Mr George Mason visited me on the day after your birthday, and he gave me this letter for you. It is from his brother, Edward Mason. As far as I know, it is a written apology for what he has done."
He gave Harriet the letter and she put it into her pocket.
"Another thing, Miss Smith. Mr Edward Mason is going to leave his home tomorrow. He is going to visit a friend in Norwich. Today he is going to pay a visit to my family." He sighed.
"I am telling you this, Miss Smith, because I do not want you to be unprepared. Do you think you can meet Edward Mason, or would it be too distressing for you?"
"I don't know, Mr Martin. Do you think I ought to meet him?"
Robert thought for a while. Then he said, "I think so, yes. It might rouse suspicion if you didn't. Of course, it will be a different situation. You'll be with us all, so he won't dare....." He stopped.
Harriet sighed. "Very well then. Thank you for your help, Mr Martin."
"Miss Smith, you can always rely on me."
After breakfast, Harriet retired to her room. She wanted to read Edward Mason's letter, and she needed a quiet place to do so.
Donwell, June 24th, 18_____
Forgive me my boldness in writing you this letter, but I have to tell you how sorry I feel for what I have done yesterday. The more I think of it, the more I realize that I have treated you in an unpardonable and disgusting manner.
I have decided to leave on next Monday. I am going to visit a friend. I am doing this for one reason. I want to spare you the humiliation of seeing me again.
I know you will not be able to forgive me now, because I can hardly forgive myself. But I sincerely hope you will forgive me one day.
I wish you all the best for your future.
Harriet threw the letter on the dressing table. Mr Mason was right. She could not forgive him, and she still couldn't understand why he had tried to kiss her. It hadn't been love, to be sure. For the first time in her life, Harriet hated somebody. She had never liked Edward Mason very much, but now she hated him.
"How on earth can he presume that he only has to write a letter to make me forgive and forget everything that has happened? He is going to Norwich? I wouldn't even care if he went to Hell!" Then she calmed herself down.
"Very well, Harriet," she thought. "He is coming today to take his leave from the Martins. All you have to do is be there, talk when you're spoken to, and wish him a pleasant journey. I think you can manage that. And you won't have to see him ever again. That's a relief!"
She cast a short glance at the mirror to check on her appearance, and went to the drawing room.
Edward Mason's visit was short and not very pleasant. It didn't last more than ten minutes, in which he was desperately trying to keep up a cheerful conversation. However, no one was interested in what he said except Mrs Martin.
Robert was polite, but in a very cold and reserved manner. Harriet noticed his eyes. They looked like steel.
Catherine and Elizabeth were talking to George Mason, who had accompanied his brother. And Harriet kept her eyes to her needlework most of the time and tried to concentrate on it.
After the two gentlemen had left, she was relieved.
"I hope that was the last time I've seen Edward Mason," she thought. And she noticed the cheerful smile Robert Martin gave her.
"He is so nice," she thought. "He still treats me with respect after all that has happened. A real gentleman!"
The harvest season had begun. Robert Martin left the house early every morning and didn't return until dinner.
Naturally, he was tired after a long day's work, and , as Elizabeth remarked, "not the best company one can get".
Harriet passed most of her time with Elizabeth and Catherine. They went for long walks, and sometimes they went down to the river. The air was always cool and fresh near the water, and they enjoyed just sitting there, watching the water and talking.
Sometimes Davey Harris joined them, told them a new anecdote or showed them how to throw stones to make them skip over the surface of the water for several times. Especially Elizabeth delighted in those games.
Harriet was very happy in these days. There was just something wrong. She missed Robert Martin. She knew he would like to be with them, but she also knew that this wasn't possible. She liked him even more because of his diligence and responsibility.
Harriet liked to be with him now, even in those evenings when he was so tired that he nearly fell asleep in his chair. He always had a kind word for her, and he seemed to be interested in all her concerns.
One evening, Elizabeth went over to her brother and said, "All work and no play isn't good for you, Rob. You've turned into a rather boring fellow, you know."
Robert looked up. "And how are you going to change me into my old self again, dearest sister," he asked ironically.
Elizabeth laughed. "What do you think of a picknick on next Sunday?"
She turned to Harriet. "What do you think, Harriet?"
"That's a wonderful idea, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth looked at Robert pleadingly. "Please!"
Robert laughed. "Who could resist you, Liz? You know I never could. Very well, a picknick on Sunday. Where are we going? Box Hill?"
"No, not Box Hill. I don't really like that place."
"Any other suggestions, then?"
"What about that lovely spot near Donwell? The one by the lake?"
"Good idea. I haven't been there for quite some time."
"Do you think the Masons will go with us?"
"If you invite them I'm sure they will."
The days went by very fast. Even Mrs Martin was enthusiastic about the idea of a picknick and so she was very busy with the preparations. The ladies were busy with their work and Robert with his. The Masons were invited, and gladly accepted the invitation. So did Mr and Mrs Charles, who were invited too.Elizabeth thought that her mother would like to have some company, too.
The menu was an important question. For Mrs Martin it was a question of honour to serve only the best things. She wanted her guests to be comfortable and enjoy their meal.
"Well, Harriet," Elizabeth said on the evening before the planned picknick, "I hope the weather will be good tomorrow. Who is going to eat all those good things if the weather is bad?"
Robert overheard this remark, and said, "Don't worry Liz, it looks as if it's going to be a fine day tomorrow."
"Very good, Rob. Harriet, the place where we are going to go tomorrow is a very romantic one. I'm sure you'll like it. There is a small lake, with water lilies all over it. Whenever I go there, I can't help thinking of Ophelia....."
Robert burst out laughing.
"Rob! You're making fun of me!"
"Sorry Liz. But the only time I saw someone swimming in that lake...." He grinned. "No, I won't tell you."
Harriet looked at him curiously. "Mr Martin, why don't you tell us? I'm sure it is amusing."
Robert smiled. "So it is, Miss Smith. But the story involves a friend of mine. I don't want to expose his misfortune to you." He glanced at Catherine. "Especially not in the presence of his fiancee."
He grinned. "Perhaps he'll tell you tomorrow. Just one thing. The mishap didn't remind me of Ophelia at all. And it was not in the least romantic."
When Harriet looked out of her bedroom window the next morning, she saw that the weather was simply lovely. She was as happy as a little child on seeing this. She had been looking forward to the planned picknick, and the thought of having to give it up because of bad weather had worried her. Now that she saw that everything would take place as it was planned, she was greatly relieved and danced around in her room while getting dressed.
However, she didn't quite know what made her more happy: the picknick or the idea of spending a whole day in the company of Robert Martin.
Soon there was a knock at her door. It was Elizabeth, who wanted to talk with her.
"Harriet! You're already finished! Good! You look so pretty", she said. "I wish I was as pretty as you are."
Harriet blushed at this praise. "But you are pretty, Elizabeth!"
Elizabeth laughed. "Did my brother ask you to say that, Harriet? He always says I'm pretty, but I know I'm not."
Harriet shook her head. "You shouldn't think like that, Elizabeth. Believe me, you are pretty, and much livelier than I will ever be." She smiled. "I am sure you will break many a poor man's heart."
Elizabeth sighed. "I have no intention of breaking any heart, Harriet. I should be glad if a decent man turns up who is willing to take me as his wife with all the faults I've got. I can tell you, there is a lot of them."
But Elizabeth could not be serious for long. "Come, Harriet, I need your help! I must find out what my brother was talking about yesterday. I'll tease him until he tells me."
"And what am I supposed to do?"
Elizabeth grinned mischievously. "Tease him, too."
After breakfast they set off to church. They were to meet the rest of the party after the service. Harriet found it hard to concentrate on the sermon, she was impatient to leave the church. Then she noticed that George Mason was looking at her. He smiled and winked. Harriet blushed and turned away.
"What must he think of me," she thought. "Not paying attention in the church! I must pull myself together."
After the service, they all gathered outside the church. There was a lively discussion about who was going to go in which carriage. George Mason and Robert Martin were going on horseback. Mrs Charles wanted "her dear Elizabeth" to go with her, and Harriet was to go with Mrs Martin and Catherine.
Elizabeth came over to Harriet and said, "Don't forget, Harriet! Tease him!"
"I don't know how, Elizabeth. I'm not as witty as you are!"
"I'm sure you'll find a way."
On their journey, Mrs Martin entertained Harriet by pointing out several landmarks. She could tell so many interesting stories, that both Harriet and Catherine were fascinated.
And then, from a hill, they had the first view of their picknick site. The lake was lovely, just as Elizabeth had described it. The water was clear and blue, and there were green spots where the water lilies grew. A small wood was on one side of it, and a stream was winding through the meadows towards the lake.
When they arrived, everything was already prepared. Mrs Simms and Mrs Mason's housekeeper had outdone themselves. It was astonishing to see what these two women had managed to prepare in only a few days. There was everything one could possibly wish for.
Harriet was particularly delighted to see a small glass bowl of....
"Walnuts! I love walnuts!" And she smiled happily.
"Do you know what is the best thing about those walnuts, Miss Smith," Robert Martin asked.
"No, I don't, Mr Martin. What is it?"
"They are all yours, Miss Smith. Take them as a late birthday present from me."
At that moment, Harriet would have hugged him, had it not been for etiquette. She beamed.
"Such a wonderful surprise, Mr Martin! I don't know how to thank you! So lovely! But how did you know that I like them?"
"You told me so yourself, Miss Smith, don't you remember?"
"I'm afraid I can't remember, Mr Martin."
"Well, you didn't tell me, but my sisters. I just happened to be in the same room. And when I came across that tree in our neighbourhood, I thought it would be a nice surprise for Miss Smith if I brought her some walnuts."
"Oh, it was indeed. Thank you very much, Mr Martin!"
Catherine had overheard their conversation and frowned. "Where did you get these walnuts, Rob? I can't remember a walnut tree in our neighbourhood."
"The Grants have got one in their garden."
"The Grants? Do you mean to tell me that you have gone five miles over the country just to get some walnuts?"
Robert laughed. "Don't exaggerate, Cathy, it was only three miles."
Harriet looked at him, all astonishment. " Three miles ? And all just for me? Oh, Mr Martin, you shouldn't have. I feel.......quite guilty for causing you so much trouble."
"It was no trouble at all, on the contrary. Now try them, Miss Smith, or I shall be very hurt."
Harriet took the bowl. "But only if you eat some, too, Mr Martin. Take as much as you want."
Robert watched Harriet as she walked over to Elizabeth to offer her some walnuts, too. She looked very happy.
"And if I'd had to walk a hundred miles for those walnuts," he thought,"seeing her like this would make it worth while."
After lunch, George Mason suggested a walk around the lake. All the young people were happy to join in, while Mrs Martin, the Masons and the Charles decided to stay where they were.
"But stay away from the water, George," Robert said, grinning. "I won't have any time to save you from drowning today."
George began to laugh, then he bowed to his friend and said, mockingly, "I'll do my best, sir. But I'd rather not talk about that episode."
"Too late, Mr Mason," Elizabeth cried. "I want to know what happened! Rob didn't tell me."
George smiled. "I'm glad he didn't. It's rather embarrassing, you know."
"Mr Mason, that's not fair," Elizabeth said. "You cannot mention it and then leave us to our curiosity. It is a most cruel thing to do, isn't it, Harriet?"
"Cathy, what do you say? You're going to marry that gentleman, don't you think you have a right to know?"
Catherine smiled. "Why don't you tell us about your dark secret, George?"
"Because I don't want to."
"Really, George? " She smiled and looked into his eyes.
"Robert, could you please tell your sister not to look at me like that? I can't resist her much longer!"
Robert laughed. "I'm afraid she is out of my command. She can look at you in every way she chooses."
George sighed and tried to look serious, but his eyes sparkled merrily.
"What is to become of this world, if not even my best friend wants to help me? Well, I'll tell you as soon as we get to that particular spot."
They walked on for a while. George and Catherine were walking in front, and Robert followed them with Elizabeth and Harriet. Harriet enjoyed this walk very much. The scenery was so beautiful, she thought that she had never seen anything like that. Finally they reached the place where George's "accident" had been.
"Robert, we'd better tell them our story now, what do you think?"
"Ladies, I am going to tell you a sad story. Do you actually know that this man, who calls himself my best friend, has deserted me in an abominable way?"
Robert laughed. "I can never forgive myself, George. I wonder why you are still my friend."
"It happened some years ago. I think I was nineteen then. Yes, I think so, it was after my first University year. I had just come home for my summer vacation, when Robert invited me to go to Kingston with him. He had to go there on business for his father, and wanted a companion. I didn't want to disappoint him, so I went with him."
"Oh yes, and very unwillingly indeed! I think I needed two minutes at least to persuade you. It was hard work, really."
The two friends looked at each other and laughed.
Harriet was amazed. This was a completely different side of Robert Martin, and a side that she liked very much. She didn't know that the Robert Martin she knew was a product of his father's early and sudden death. Being forced into the responsibility for his family's welfare from one minute to the other had changed him into a very serious, earnest sort of person. Too earnest, sometimes, his family and friends thought.
Today, however, he slipped back into his old ways a bit. Everyone but Harriet knew that, and George encouraged it by telling his story. It was good to see the "old Robert" back again, he thought. And he was grateful to Harriet Smith, because somehow he knew that her presence had something to do with it.
"You don't know it, Miss Smith," he thought, "but I think you would be good for Robert. You'd cheer him up a bit, you know."
He went on with his story.
"It was a fine afternoon, nearly as fine as today, and on our way home we passed this place. I wanted to see if there were any fish in this lake, and so we went down to the water."
George paused, then continued in a theatrical manner.
"Now ladies, please help me. Perhaps Mr Martin will admit today that he caused that horrible accident."
Harriet smiled. "Did you, Mr Martin?"
"Miss Smith, honestly, I don't know what he is talking about." And, turning to George, he said, "But perhaps Mr Mason will explain his accusation in a minute?"
"You should have warned me! Miss Smith, I tripped over a stone and fell into the lake."
Robert laughed. "Oh yes, those nasty stones. " He looked around. "I wonder where they are today. Moved into a better neighbourhood, perhaps? Or did Davey Harris take them all with him for his catapult, Miss Smith? I must admit the ground looks deceptively flat and even to me George, but you better stay away from the water. Maybe some evil stone is still lurking somewhere, waiting for your return?"
Both men laughed heartily, and the ladies couldn't help laughing too.
"So why did you laugh yesterday, Rob," Elizabeth asked.
"Well, why? I think I'll have to describe what I saw. And George, I think I'll have to destroy your stone legend."
"Very well. Tell your story."
"That day was a very fine day, to be sure, but when we rode home it started to get very windy. George wanted to see the lake, so we came here. And just when he was near the water, the wind blew off his hat and it fell into the water. George tried to get it out, but he didn't want to ruin his new boots. And the hat was floating in the water, slightly out of reach."
George grinned. "You weren't much help, Robert, do you remember?"
"Who suggested that you should use a stick, George? Why didn't you listen to me?"
George laughed. "We live to learn. Now I know I should listen to your advice."
"Oh yes. You learned it the hard way, but you learned it. Ladies, seeing George standing there trying to get his hat was a sight to be seen, but suddenly he lost his balance and SPLASH!"
George laughed. "I wish I could have seen that!"
"Why didn't you tell us the truth, George," Catherine asked.
"I thought it was too embarrassing. I'm sorry."
Elizabeth laughed. "I can understand that perfectly, Mr Mason!"
Robert grinned. "But then, when he stood up in the water, full of mud, his hat was actually just where it belonged. On his head. I couldn't help it, I laughed until there were tears in my eyes, and I'm sure, George, that you would have done the same thing."
"I'm sure I would. Well, I forgive you, you're my friend. Now you know my dark secret, Catherine. Do you still want to marry me?"
Catherine laughed. "If you promise me to stay away from the water, yes."
They walked back to the rest of the party, and an hour later they went back home.
In the evening, Harriet was tired but happy. It had been such a pleasant day. And Mr Martin! Who would have thought that he could be so lively? That had been a delightful surprise!
"The better I know him, the more I like him," she thought.
Before Harriet had left Highbury in June, she had agreed with Mrs Goddard that she would return on the 15th of August. But when this day drew nearer, Harriet felt miserable. She had been so happy here, and she didn't want to go back to Mrs Goddard's and live in the same house with Miss Nash again. There would be no Elizabeth to make her laugh, no friendly and helpful Catherine, no motherly Mrs Martin, who had always treated her so kindly. And, most of all, no Mr Martin. No Robert.... Harriet knew that she would miss him most of all the family.
A week before her departure, a letter from Mrs Goddard arrived, containing all the directions for her return. It was to be the 15th, there was no way out of it. This made the remaining days of her visit even more precious to Harriet, and she decided to make the most of them.
Harriet was not the only one who dreaded the day of her return to Highbury. Robert thought very much of it, too. The idea of Harriet leaving Abbey Mill made him feel desperate. He was sure of his feelings for Harriet, but he couldn't find the courage to talk to her, and to ask her to become his wife. He wasn't sure of her feelings, and dreaded a negative answer. And then, would it be wise to marry so early in his life? Harriet was even younger, would she want to marry so early?
Finally he decided to do nothing in that matter before he had asked Mr Knightley's advice. Mr Knightley was a good friend, and had always been there for him if he had needed him. Surely Mr Knightley would know what to do. But Mr Knightley was in London at the moment, visiting his brother. As far as Robert knew, he wouldn't be back until September.
"She seems to like me," Robert thought. "But does she like me enough to marry me?"
He went to the window and looked out. It was raining, and the gloomy weather seemed to reflect his own mood. Again, his father came into his mind. "You think too much, Robert....son, there cannot be a guarantee for everything in life...."
Robert sighed. "Enough thinking for the moment, Rob," he thought. "Get some company, that will help. George will arrive any minute." George......maybe he should talk to him, ask for his opinion? No, he already knew George's answer.
"Robert, if you love her, what is the problem?" Robert grinned. He could imagine George saying that, as a reminder of what he had told George on a very similar occasion two months ago. Now he understood what George had felt then. George would be amused, to be sure, but he'd also try to help him, Robert was convinced of that. Still, asking for George's advice didn't look like a good idea. George was too romantic in cases like that.
"I'll wait for Mr Knightley," Robert thought. "Two more weeks won't make a difference, will they?"
When Robert entered the drawing room, he saw that George was already there.
"Robert, I'm glad you're here at last. I got rather scared, all alone with the ladies, you know."
Robert laughed. "There's nothing to be afraid of, George. My mother and sisters are quite peaceful after dinner. I cannot answer for Miss Smith, though." He turned to Harriet.
"But I don't think you would harm my friend, would you, Miss Smith?"
Harriet blushed."Erm, no, I don't think so," she said bashfully.
Robert smiled and winked at her, then he said to George, "See? You were perfectly safe."
Now Harriet couldn't help laughing, and Elizabeth and Catherine laughed too.
George looked at Harriet, and then he said to Robert,"Don't you think that Miss Smith has grown this summer?"
Rober looked at her, too. "I'm afraid I cannot tell."
George turned to Catherine. "What do you think ? I think Miss Smith is taller than she was in June."
Catherine laughed. "She is taller than I am, at least."
"No, I am not, Catherine."
"Yes you are."
George laughed. "Come, ladies, this quarrel can be settled very easily. Do you happen to have a pencil somewhere, Robert?"
"Sure. There must be one in my desk. What are you up to, George?"
"We'll use a scientific method to find out which of the ladies is right. And you're to be the judge. Ladies, will you just stand there by the window? You too, Miss Elizabeth. Have you got the pencil, Robert?"
"Well, get started then."
Robert went over and marked the girls' height on the wainscot. Harriet was the last one. Robert drew a line with his pencil, then he looked at her, smiling.
"Looks like my sister is right, Miss Smith. You are taller, see?"
He pointed to the mark. Harriet nodded.
"You know what, Rob?", Elizabeth said. "We'll leave those marks where they are. And when Harriet comes to visit us next time, we'll see if she's grown or not."
Everybody agreed, and so the marks were left for future reference.
It was Harriet's last evening on Abbey Mill Farm. She had spent most of the day saying goodbye to everybody and everrything. Elizabeth and Catherine had gone for a long walk with her, and Harriet had taken leave of Harris and his son Davey. While walking home, she had even cried a bit, and her friends had done everything to cheer her up.
"Harriet, don't cry," Catherine had said. "I'm sure you'll visit us again soon. And we'll visit you at Mrs Goddard's. You won't be alone."
Now Harriet was in the drawing room, feeling melancholy. She went over to the window seat and sat down. Normally this seat was Mr Martin's place when he was reading. There were even some books. Harriet took a closer look at them, but they were not the sort of books she liked.
The door opened, and Robert Martin entered the room.
"Miss Smith? You're reading?"
"No, Mr Martin, I just had a look at those books. I guess it would be rather too late if I started reading them now, don't you think?"
"Not at all, Miss Smith. You're welcome to have any of my books that you like."
Harriet blushed. "Thank you, Mr Martin, but these are not the books I normally read. I'm not clever enough to understand them, I'm afraid."
"Miss Smith, don't think so lowly of yourself. I'm sure you're clever enough to read those books."
Harriet smiled. "Well, I think I'm not."
"What sort of books do you read, Miss Smith?"
"Novels, mostly. The Romance of the Forest, or the Children of the Abbey, that sort of thing. Did you ever read these?"
"No, I never heard of these books before. Are they good?"
"I enjoyed them very much."
"Well, I think I'll get these books as soon as I can. I promise you to read them." He smiled at her. "That will give us something to talk about when we meet next, Miss Smith."
When we meet next...
Harriet sighed. Then she looked at him. "Mr Martin, I want to thank you for everything you have done for me. You were so friendly, helpful and generous. I will never forget you, as long as I live, and I am happy to have a friend like you."
Robert looked at Harriet earnestly. "Miss Smith, everything I did for you was gladly done, I assure you. And if you enjoyed your visit here, I'm glad to hear it."
The door opened, and Elizabeth and Catherine came in. The evening passed with lively conversation and card games, but Harriet and Robert took part in them only half-heartedly. They both had their own thoughts to attend to.
Harriet retired to her room early because she wanted to get enough sleep. Robert stayed in the drawing room with his sisters. For a while, nobody spoke.
Then Elizabeth said, "Did you talk to Harriet, Rob?"
"What do you mean? Of course I talked to Miss Smith."
"Rob, what I meant to say was, did you tell her that you love her?"
Robert was surprised. "How do you know, Liz?"
"We're not blind, Rob. It's obvious that you feel more for Harriet than mere friendship."
Robert sighed. "I didn't tell her about it, no."
Robert glared at Elizabeth angrily. Then he said in his calmest, most dangerous voice,
"I don't have to tell you my reasons, do I?"
"No you don't. Come, Cathy, we'll leave Mr Martin alone."
They both left the room, and Robert felt guilty for being angry with Elizabeth. After all, it wasn't her fault that Harriet had to leave tomorrow and that he hadn't told her about his feelings.
Elizabeth had just asked him the wrong questions at the wrong time.
He decided to apologize the next morning.
It was the moment to say goodbye. Harriet was just about to get into the carriage that was to bring her back to Highbury, and the whole Martin family were around her. Catherine and Elizabeth embraced her and promised to visit her soon.
Mrs Martin was very friendly, told her to give her regards to Mrs Goddard and promised to send Mrs Goddard a present. "And, Miss Smith, I hope you will visit us again soon," she said.
"You'll be welcome here at any time you like."
Robert kept in the background until his mother and sisters had said goodbye. Then he went to Harriet to assist her in getting into the carriage.
"Miss Smith, I wish you a pleasant journey. Get home safely and....take care of yourself."
Harriet was surprised to see so much sadness in his look, although he was smiling.
"We are very sorry to lose you, Miss Smith. But I hope it won't be for long."
With these words, he kissed her hand, a thing he had never done before. It made her feel strange.
Harriet got into the carriage, and her journey began. Soon the Martins were out of sight, and Harriet felt like leaving home. It was an incredibly sad feeling.
Robert waited until he couldn't see the carriage any more. Then he went back into the house.
"One or two weeks," he thought, "and I'll have the chance to talk to Mr Knightley. Two weeks don't really matter in a lifetime, do they?"
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