The letter was battered and looked as though it had ridden outside the coach each leg of its journey. By the cancellation marks it had gone far afield of Crown Hill. That explained why it had taken a good deal of time to receive a reply. He was now glad he had not allowed angry sentiments to post an express, for which he would have to apologise.
Breaking the seal, he prayed a small prayer, "God, please. Keep this from being what I have spent weeks dreading." The mark being Upper cross disturbed him. As he looked closer, he recognised the hand as that of Harville. He breathed a small sigh of relief--thankfully it had not come from Mr. Musgrove. Standing with the letter open, but for one fold, he hesitated. The contents of the letter could easily destroy all his hopes for a future. The contents of this letter, for good or for ill could decide every aspect of his happiness. Breathing deeply, he opened the last fold. He began to read.
February __ 18__
I hope this letter finds you in health of body. I know it will leave you in health of spirit. Your direct questions and statements made me realise the serious nature of your correspondence. I know that when you left us in November, you had stated that there was no attachment to Miss Musgrove. In the ensuing weeks, I watched and I thought I could discern our guest forming an attachment to our James. My wife expressed the same to me, but feeling it was not possible, at least not on his part. Imagine my surprise that as time went on, it became clear that they, indeed, were growing closer. James had taken to reading to Miss Louisa on a daily, nay hourly basis. His voice and the words seemed to keep her mind occupied and moving toward recovery and so it was encouraged by all. As her physical strength rallied, he began to walk out with her first once, then twice daily. Morning and afternoon as the clock they would go. She, of course avoided the scene of the accident, but there are many other walks of beauty in the locality to enjoy and they partook liberally. I still held to a naive belief that James was too dispirited over Fanny's death to become drawn to another woman. So you can understand, that when he came to me, asking that I write for him to Mr. Musgrove, requesting permission to marry his daughter, I was shocked. Frederick, while I did indeed write the letter, it broke my heart. Fanny is not ten months gone. I cannot help but think she would have mourned him a more decent period. How can a man, as hard in love as James was, open his heart so soon to another? I do not understand. Anywise, the consent has been given and Benwick arrived today at Uppercross. Mrs. Harville and I arrived yesterday as we escorted Miss Louisa home. I profess to being double-minded in all this. It warms my heart to see him lively again and welcomed into this home as a son, but I still grieve the loss of Fanny and his loss as my brother. Please do not allow this past yourself, I do not wish to pain my friend with these harsh observations. So as you can see my friend, you are not missed, nor I dare say, thought much about at this juncture. Knowing your feelings on these points, I am certain this does not injure your sentiment. I hope I shall have the pleasure of your company soon. Cordially,
"Edward! Edward! Come here, please." Frederick called from the entryway. Fortune had once more smiled upon him. Now he could do something.
Edward came from his study. He had begun to read a relaxing treatise and had been quite caught up in total depravity. Not his own specifically, but that of mankind in general. "What is wrong?" He removed his glasses, and looked at his brother with a scowl. "What has happened?"
Frederick looked at Edward, for a moment forgetting the letter. He had never seen his brother with glasses and he looked rather odd to him. "When did you begin to wear those?" he asked pointing to the spectacles.
Edward went from a scowl to a frown, placing the hand in which he held them, behind his back. He usually left them in the study and never wore them out. He was still somewhat vain about needing them. "I always wear them when I read--in private. What of it? I am sure you did not call me out here to question my eyesight."
Remembering the letter, he thrust it toward Edward and said, "Read this."
Edward took the letter. Putting the spectacles back in place. Looking at Frederick with an exasperated expression, he took the letter and began. Frederick watched his brother's face as he read. Other than a raised brow at points, there was no other mien.
"Well, it would seem, my boy, that you are free of any consideration from Miss Musgrove," Edward looked at his brother with a wide smile. "You are our own man again!"
"It does say that, does it not?" The relief overtook his countenance.
"I told you, you are your own man again! You are free! I do not believe I can make it any more plain. It clearly states that Miss Musgrove and James Benwick have the permission of her father to wed. You can breathe again, Frederick!" Edward said with enthusiasm.
"I had equal anticipation and dread of this letter." He closed his eyes and spontaneously said, "Thank God."
Edward looked pointedly at him and said, "As you should." Holding the paper before them both, he continued, "This is what mercy looks like, Frederick. You do not deserve this and there is no way you, even you, could pay to make this come about. Use it well, and do not squander this opportunity." He read the letter again, this second read through, he noticed Captain Harville's obvious anguish over the matter. Edward hoped that in subsequent readings, his brother too would notice and at some point in time, offer comfort to his friend. "What are your plans now, brother?"
"I will be at Bath on Wednesday," he said firmly. In his anticipation of news, any news on the matter, he had thought of travel to either likely location which would demand his attention. "I have already determined to go by post to Bath."
Edward looked shocked. "You! By post. The man who endured six days of rain and ice coming here rather than go by post. Why ever for?"
"It will be faster than horseback. If all things connect, there will be a night coach I may take and not have to stay over the first night. I shall write Sophy today and ask her hospitality. I go Monday," he said, his mind going back over the plans he had made. Taking back the letter, he glanced over it again, touching on the words about Miss Musgrove and Benwick's engagement with singular delight. Folding it, he put it in his breast pocket and took a deep breath. Looking at Edward, he was puzzled to see him leaning against the door jamb and staring past Frederick to no place in particular. "You look as though you are not as pleased as I am with this news."
Edward roused himself and realising that this was the first good news Frederick had gotten since being in Shropshire, he decided it was best to keep his feelings to himself. Straightening, he clapped his brother on the arm. Smiling, he said, "Of course I am pleased. You now have the chance to put yourself in the way of a little happiness. I wish you all the best, Frederick." Pulling his brother to him, he embraced him tightly.
Sunday evening was falling as Frederick was placing the last of his clothing in his trunk. Though the coach departed after noon, he wished to be packed and ready to take the trunk down in the morning. A hasty letter to Sophy, begging a room and some hospitality, had been written and sent a few days before. Gathering the last of his things would complete his preparations. He picked up the book Edward and Catherine had given him at Christmas. Leafing through the pages for a last time, he placed it on top of that already packed. There was a knock at the door, he walked over and opened the door to find Catherine with what looked to be a shirt and other small clothing.
"Mmm . . . the laundress seemed to have mixed your things with Edward's. I wonder how that is possible since all your clothing is marked quite clearly. Here . . . I could not find Edward to return them and knew you would need to pack them." She was embarrassed returning such personal items and wanted nothing more than to be away from him. Handing them to Frederick, she turned quickly to go.
"Catherine," he said. Leaning into the room and tossing the offending garments to the bed, he stepped into the hallway. She stopped and turned. "I wish to thank you for allowing me to stay with you and Edward. I know it cannot be easy having a stranger camp upon your hospitality. It was much appreciated."
Smiling, she said, "The pleasure has been ours. Having the two of you close is worth everything. I have seldom seen him happier."
"He has been somewhat . . . distracted the last few days. Is he well? I would not want to leave knowing that he is ill," Frederick said with concern.
Catherine smiled, "He has begun to miss you I dare say. I too have noticed that he is . . . inattentive. Edward fancies himself a man of the mind, but in truth, I believe him to be more of the heart than he would own. Perhaps this evening, you could spend some time--alone with him. I think he very much needs to bid you farewell specially and most likely, privately." She laid her hand on his arm, "If you have time, he has gone to the greenhouse." Turning, she walked away to her rooms. Before entering, she looked to him and said, "I shall miss you too." She went in and was gone.
Retrieving his coat from the room, he pulled the door shut and went on to find his brother.
"I found you at last. So why have you come out here in the rain? I would have thought the society of your wife on a drizzly evening would be preferable to this." Taking the seat next to Edward, Frederick sat in one of the battered chairs. Watching the rain cascade off the glass roof of the greenhouse, he mused over the last time they had been here together. The eve of a new year, heavy snow. Now it was the beginning of February and there was rain. He had been the one in need of succor then, and now it was Edward who looked distressed. How things change.
Edward spoke up, "No, just endeavoring to bring my mind to some sort of order. Catherine's society is indeed preferable, I just am not good company this evening." He did not look at Frederick as he talked, he just stared into the dark.
Frederick smiled, "I believe I pleaded that excuse when I secreted myself here. Moreover, your wife is the one who sent me. This being the last evening I shall be here, she thought you and I should spend it together. She thinks we may have matters to finish or words to say before I leave you."
"None as in the past," said Frederick.
Edward hesitated, his sentimentality was strong, but he did not wish to burden his brother with his own feelings. "I wish I had some poignant, family story to give you hope for your future with Anne, or perhaps an heirloom that carries a great deal of significance. Something which has a great family legacy attached, but alas there is none. I dare say our family legacy is one which should be kept in this generation and go no further." Edward leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. He was missing these times already and needed time to collect himself. Rising from his seat, he walked to the door. The rain was falling faster and he put a hand out to feel its cool pulse on his palm. Shaking off the water, he turned, "I have none of those things for you. Nothing to sent you away with--but my heartfelt prayers and wishes that when you return, it is married to Anne." He stepped into the rain and headed to the house.
He heard Frederick's rushed footsteps behind him, "Oh no! You do not leave me that easily. A pronouncement such as that deserves a rebuttal and I will not allow that you quit me with that nonsense being the last you say. Come back and listen to me." Taking Edward by the arm, he pulled him back to the greenhouse. Pointing him to the chair he had just quit, Frederick turned the chair he had used and straddled it. Leaning on the back, he looked pointedly to his brother and began, "As I departed Plymouth, I dreaded coming here."
A bemused look came to Edward's face and he said, "Does the rest of this conversation come with a guaranty that I shall be made to feel as cheerful as that last bit?"
Frederick laughed, "Just listen. When I rode up, I expected chastening for being two days late--by the bye, you have never said a thing about it." Edward smiled. " I expected the same cheerless, austere brother who usually greeted me. Instead, out of the door comes this bearded, coatless chap. He has a jest on his lips and a kitchen cloth on his shoulder from cooking dinner. I did not know him, but I soon came to enjoy him very much. I learned more of you in a few days than I had known of you in my entire life." He reached out his hand and put it upon Edward's shoulder. "I shall always be grateful for the time I have spent here with you and Catherine. I leave here having not only a brother, but I dare say, a friend. As for a legacy, I think the one you have established will do." Sitting straight and looking as though he just recalled something, he asked, "As a friend, tell me something, why had you determined that this visit would be so different, why did you tell me of your past this trip and not another?"
Edward began to laugh a bit. "I thought you had perhaps guessed the reason yourself. Think, my boy, I am married to a woman who has never been introduced to your somber and dour Reverend Wentworth. I dare say, she would not brook his oppressive ways. I think as you have found in the past weeks, I am more likely to play the jester than any other part in the play. I am not by nature reserved. I had a choice, tell you the truth or endeavor to keep you and my wife in separate parts of the house for nearly two months. You only chose the time, I would have told you eventually." Both sat quietly. "There is something else I wish to tell you," he said.
Frederick rolled his eyes and in jest said, "Heavens, no more deep revelation."
Edward smiled, "No. No revelations, merely some tactical advice for you , Captain."
"Tactical advice, eh? I would be interested to hear the advice of a clergyman in matters of tactics."
Edward cleared his throat and took on a serious air. "Frederick, I wish for you to be united to Anne. But I know that you tend to move quickly in things. Give yourself time to assess the situation when you arrive at Bath and, no matter what, do not be fooled by circumstances. Do not believe everything you see or hear when it comes to these matters."
"You think I may act hastily?" Frederick asked.
"You may be fooled into acting hastily. Do not go until she bids you to be gone. Until she looks you in the eye and tells you she does not love you or that she prefers another. Leave not until then," he said gravely. He wanted this undertaking to have a better outcome than his brother's first engagement with Miss Elliot.
Frederick sat straight on the chair. Looking at Edward, he said, "That would be harsh to hear. I do not think I could bear it."
"You must. If they are her feelings--and there is no guaranty they are--you must know for sure. If you do not, there will be no hope for you to go on and live a settled life, there will ever be doubt." Edward rose from his seat, standing behind his brother, he took him by the shoulders and said, "Either outcome--good or ill--you come back here. You always have a home with Catherine and me. If the worse happens . . . we build you back . . . from the soles up if necessary and put you on your way again. If the best . . . we rejoice and welcome Anne to the family. Whichever, we shall be looking for you. Come, the rain has eased and I should find my wife. She will think me drowned in the storm."
"You go ahead, I wish to stay for a bit," Frederick said.
"All right. Come soon, it is cooling quickly."
Frederick watched as Edward walked toward the house. Whichever, we shall be looking for you. To bring Anne here was his fondest wish. To bring her home to his family. For her alone he had begun to think and plan. Perhaps it was premature, but he was determined to use this mercy, as Edward called it, to the best.
The coach was headed down the carriageway toward Ludlow. Edward and Catherine stood and waved until it rounded behind Dunston Hill and was out of sight.
"Well, he is off," Catherine said, trying to keep her tone light. She turned to return to the house.
Edward did not move, still looking down the road. "Yes, he is," he said. "I shall miss him."
"Of course you shall, but, perhaps when he returns, he will be bringing a wife. Will that not be worth his going?" She tried to bring his mind to the felicitous points of Frederick leaving and she hoped his brother's happiness would attract him away from low thoughts.
Edward came to her and offered her his arm. She took it and they went toward the house. "You know, his taking Anne Elliot as a wife may not be the best of ideas," he said in a somber tone.
This surprised Catherine very much and she looked at him, asking, "Why in heavens not? He loves her and has gone through an agony just to have a chance at happiness with her. Now you think it may not be the best of plans?"
Continuing to walk, but steering them away from the house and out to the grove, he said, "Well, perhaps I should clarify myself. It would not doFrederick and I well if this were to be."
She began to suspect he was playing with her, but determined it best to go along. "And how is this?" Not only was Edward sporting with her, he was leading her from the house to the grove. This meant his spirits were already on the rise and that a walk was in order. They had not walked together for weeks and this pleased her.
"This is because, Frederick has assured me, Miss Anne has not changed either in person or mind since I saw here last in Somerset. As I recall, she is a very bright woman, much like yourself and with the two of you as allies, there is no argument that my brother and I could ever best you at. There would be no man vs. woman contests that he and I would have a hope of triumph." Gently pulling her closer, he said, "I fear that our only hope would be to throw ourselves upon the mercy of our fine wives and give victory to the fair sex." Coming to the crumbling back wall, he stopped and leaned against it, bringing her along side him. "So, can you see why I am a bit concerned about his choice of a wife?" he asked with a sly smile.
"I see your dilemma, but I must confess, I think I like this Miss Elliot. I like any woman who will give me such an advantage," she smiled back at him. "Perhaps you and I could negotiate some sort of alliance now--to preclude such an awkward . . . confrontation."
She had seized the upper hand and was now leading him down a path. He willingly followed. Sliding his arms around her waist, he brought her closer to himself. "And just what might this alliance entail? And what might the terms be?"
Looking about and seeing no one, she put her arms round his neck. She removed his hat, (such a silly thing it was) and placed it upon the wall. Combing through his hair with her fingers, she began to negotiate. "The alliance would entail complete loyalty to one another, no petty divisions based on sex and the terms would be . . . a kiss."
Smiling broadly, he looked into her eyes, and with much enthusiasm, accepted her terms.
Chapter 2, Tuesday
After leaving Edward and Catherine yesterday, I settled into my usual state when traveling. Endurance. It did not take long to remember why post has always been so repellent to me. The seats are merciless, the room for one's legs is lacking and if luck is very much against you, as it was with me, your fellow travelers are not much to your liking. I joined a party of gentlemen coming from Shrewsbury going as far as Ludlow to conduct some business. There were three of them and they were not pleased to have an interloper in their midst. They had had the coach to themselves and were counting it to be that way to their destination. I was fortunate that Ludlow was a mere thirty miles and from Crown Hill. I was prepared to transfer to a night coach and travel straight to Gloucester to the south. That would put the major part of the journey behind me. Staying there for the night, I would only be traveling for thirty-five miles on Wednesday, putting me in Bath at nearly noon.
The best of plans go awry and mine most assuredly did. A broken rim delayed us for three-quarters of an hour, and the gentlemen abused the driver fiercely. Though I am not an expert on land travel, I do not think that the driver can be held responsible for metal fatigue. I had to admire the man's patience, with a whip so closely at hand, he might have been tempted to use it. Having nothing better to occupy myself, I aided in off-loading the coach and changing the rim. It was amusing to listen to the conversation once we were back on course. You would have thought that the three of them had singlehandedly done the job. The delay caused me to miss the night coach and so I stayed in Ludlow. I was aggravated at the impediment. My aggravation came more from being fixed in a room for the night and having doubtfulness and misgivings overrun me.
Lying on the bed in the room I took, I had little choice, but to contemplate my future. I began to look with a tactician's eye what was before me. When preparing for an attack, a fleet has maps, tactical manoeuvers and an overall battle plan. I will have nothing of this nature. I had also begun to realise that I would be friendless in my quest. Those surrounding Anne are the same who, in the past, wished me away. I went the last time, I shall not do so now. Sophy and the Admiral will be my only allies in Bath, but I do not wish to make them privy to my object. Perhaps it is pride, perhaps prudence, but I must accomplish this alone. I alone fouled any opportunity I may have had with Anne when I arrived at Kellynch, setting things to right must be from my efforts alone. Clinging to the fact that she did not marry Musgrove, will be my only hope. Charles then, had more than I am able to offer . . . even now. I could only ask, was her refusal owing to me? The question echoed and rang in my mind. Edward had called this reprieve a mercy. In thinking over the situation, in the early watches of the morning, it felt to me, an agony.
Setting off from Ludlow early this morning, I again found myself in company of which I was not terribly glad. My companions on this leg were a German jeweler, his wife and a daughter. Mr. Zellheim and his wife are both watch makers. He insisted upon seeing mine and was not stinting, in broken German, with his denunciation of its quality. For the next half an hour, they endeavored to sell me another. While some of their timepieces are very fine, my mind was not set upon purchasing a pocket watch. Then, much to my chagrin, as I was not interested in a watch, they began to enumerate to me the merits of their daughter. At first I was most amused, for I could not seriously believe this was transpiring. I began to take the situation in earnest when Mr. Zellheim, who had been seated next to me, stood and in a rapid and rather stern manner, told his daughter to exchange seats with him! I am not certain how courtship and marriage are arranged in Germany, but I would hope that there is more than merely a short coach ride with strangers. Having recently learned a lesson in social propriety, I showed no signs of pleasure, amusement or even amicability. Had this not achieved its work, I was quite prepared to stop the coach and ride outside the remainder of the trip. My salvation came when they removed at Worcester. I fear, had they gone further, I may have been conjoined by Cheltenham. Fortune smiled after Worcester and I was the lone passenger. While it was desirable considering my past lot with fellow travelers, it left more time than I cared for to think.
Alone in the coach, my thoughts turned to the news of Benwick and Louisa Musgrove's marriage. While Miss Musgrove is by no means, an ignorant girl, she is not the woman that Fanny Harville was. I did not have the pleasure of spending vast amounts of time in Miss Harville's company. Though, once I believe Harville had hopes that she and I . . . The time I was in her presence, I found her to be intelligent and charming and quite an engaging woman. I suppose that is the material point, she was a woman whereas Louisa is not. Though feminine in physical being, her mind has not the maturity one could call womanly. I wondered that Benwick, after being devoted to a woman, who in many ways was his counterpart, could come to love a girl so much less than himself. Perhaps having lost a woman with the merits of Fanny Harville, he has no desire to again, invest himself so deeply. Or perhaps, James has recovered and needs to love again. Having read Harville's letter countless times in the past days and knowing it nearly by heart, I saw his questioning the same. While I pondered from a station of near personal disinterest and curiosity, Harville queried from a place of pain.
He and Benwick were close on board the Laconia, building a strong friendship off duty and eventually taking him into his family by way of the engagement. Harville had, I believe, in his heart, counted James as a brother not only as the intended of his sister, but as a dearly held fellow officer. After his injuries took him out of active service, he, in spite of everything, still had James for a brother because of Fanny. In her death, and now especially, that is gone. I can only imagine his anguish. Having just these past weeks gained Edward as a loving brother, I could not imagine losing him now for what would seem a betrayal. I can only pray that his wounds will not bring bitterness. Harville is a man of great wisdom and understanding. Unlike Benwick's book learning, his comes from a natural perception of human temperament. I would hate to see that stunted by anger and turned to cynicism. Though I have no words of great insight for him, I am hoping that I shall see him soon to give what comfort I am able. Both men are dear to me and I wish that both can remain so.
The night has long since fallen, I feel sleep coming on. It is still somewhat early, but I have not rested well these past few nights. I am hoping to awaken with only a few hours left until I am at Bath. The nearer I come to my destination, the more I realise what a pivotal point in time this is for me. Most men make decisions with a fair amount of hope as to what they will bring. I know the decision to come to Bath, uncertain as it may be, is the only hope I have.
Chapter 3, Wednesday
>"Hey! Wake up! It's Bath! Last stop, sir!" the driver bellowed. It did not rouse me until he added his whip handle to prod me at the shoulder.
"All right, I heard you. Give me a moment." I said. Being able to fall asleep anytime or anyplace is not necessarily a good thing. It can leave one at a disadvantage when traveling alone. I had only a vague memory of people coming on board when we came to the turnoff to Chippenham. They being a quiet lot, I had fallen back to sleep. But, they were also considerate and left me to doze when we arrived in Bath. So, as I looked about me, I realized that they all were off and I alone was keeping the gentleman from his tea. "Are we on time?" I asked, as I dismounted the coach.
"To the money, sir. Your trunk is inside. You can hire a rig there or have it delivered," he said as he looked inside the coach for any stray belongings. Reaching in, he pulled out my old satchel, "This yours?" he asked.
"Yes it is. Thank you. I shall lose that one day and be in a fair way to ruin." It was times as this I lamented not having a desk with a house around it in which to keep all my worldly goods. Taking the satchel from the driver, I asked, "Can you tell me the directions to . . . let me find that note . . . ah, here it is, ____Gay Street? Is it far?"
"Gay Street? No, not far for a fella in your condition. North six blocks. You'll be going to the . . . east off there. Should be on the south side of the street," he said, looking at the sky, he continued, "If you hurry, you might make it afore the next burst. Shall I have 'em send the trunk?"
"That would be good of you. Will it be there by evening?" I queried.
The driver looked around. "I see Lou loadin' now, if I get it on that cart, it might well outpace you there."
"Well, I would appreciate anything you might do to get my trunk, on that cart," I said, as I hand him a pound-note. In the past, I had often been told that a major flaw in my character was the inability to handle money wisely. In this case, I felt it wise that my trunk arrived in time to allow my dressing for dinner. I was certain that Sophy would expect better attire than the two-day-old costume I was sporting just then. Having missed the night coach between Ludlow and Worcester, and for the rest of the journey all the connections being met, there was no opportunity to change for two days. At least it was winter, summer by post must have a bouquet all its own.
I watched as the trunk was loaded on the cart. Looking at the jumble of trunks, parcels and wares; I thought that if mine was the trunk they delivered to Gay Street, I would be fortunate indeed. Now, the driver said north six and then east. I would hope that this fellow was a bit merciful on others to which he gave directions. Not everyone is used to navigating by compass. Heading what I reckoned to be north, I found Bath to be a bit down at the heel in this end. Once I was among the moneyed, I was certain the surroundings would improve. Not that I am inclined toward the elegant, I prefer the worn boots anytime.
Gay Street, was just as the fellow said. East I headed. South side. Having had a look around, I determined that it was quite possible, my sister had grown accustomed to the finer things. Gay Street was posh and smart to the extreme. I also determined that my country ways from Shropshire must be exchanged for more genteel manners. Well, never let it be said that Frederick Wentworth is not an adaptable man. I supposed that the next few days would tell just how adaptable.
Coming up the sidewalk, I see that "Lou" had gotten there before me. Though, he seemed to be having difficulty with the delivery. From a quarter of a block away, I began to hear the voices of Lou and a footman.
"Look, fella. I ain't paid to know who this . . . Capt'n F. Wentworth might be to the folks livin' here. They put the trunk on my cart and give me the address and there I take it. Now, I can hoist the thing up and take it back. Then, when this Wentworth chap shows hisself, you explains to him where his trunk has got off to."
"That will not be necessary, Lou. I am Captain Wentworth and I shall take possession of my trunk," I said. Turning to the footman, I presented one of the few cards I carried. Other than something to lose, I find them useless, excepting in a case such as this. The footman disappeared, but I found that Lou was not finished.
"Now, how does I know that you truly are this Wentworth fella?" Lou asked earnestly.
"You are a bright man, Lou. You do not know that I am this Wentworth fella, as you so politely put it. But, this pound-note that I am giving you will, no doubt, make my identity clear." As I put it in his breast pocket, he looked at me with a raised brow. Perhaps he thought I was picking his pocket rather than depositing anything in it.
He took out the note and examined it, then he looked to me and said, "Yea, sorry I didn't reco'nise ya before Capt'n. Well, here's ya trunk, and you have a good evn'n." He walked in the direction of his cart. Stopping, he turned and asked, "How did you know my name was Lou?"
He was scowling and his tone was one of a man perplexed. Lou was of a good size; he hauled my trunk to the sidewalk with no help. I did not wish to make him angry. "My driver at the coaching station called you Lou as we spoke. Nothing more." I kept my tone light, in hopes that this would appease him.
He seemed satisfied with that answer, and said, "Oh. Well, again, good night to ya, sir."
Frankly, I breathed a sigh of relief. The last thing I needed was an altercation involving myself and a delivery driver, especially in front of my sister's residence. In the future, I determined I would be more careful in my manner of address.
"Fred--erick! What in the name of the deep blue are you doing here?" The voice was Sophy's and before I knew, I was enveloped in her warm embrace. While I found Edward to be the brother I had desired all my life, Sophy had always been my port in a storm. Just the scent of the rose water she has always used, and to know that at some dinner during my stay, there would be roasted rabbit with mangoe chutney put me home.
Stepping back from me, but still grasping my hands, she looked me up and down to take an account of my health. "Oh! It is good to see you. The Admiral said we should write and insist that you come and stay here for a bit. Give Edward a rest," she said with a look of jest in her eye.
Perhaps I was more gentrified than I had believed. The passing foot traffic was beginning to take notice of our reunion. "Shall we go inside, Sophy? We seem to be drawing a bit of attention to ourselves," I said. I motioned to the door and stepped aside to allow her first in.
As she mounted the stairs, she said to me, "When did public propriety become uppermost in your thoughts?"
I must confess, it made me wince inwardly as Sophy finished her sentence. Public propriety would ever be a concern to me since my lack thereof had nearly cost me my freedom. Mounting the stairs to the upper levels, I looked around at the home and its fine appointments. I had been a bit startled when my sister and the Admiral had leased Kellynch Hall. While I had never thought them beneath such plushness, I had never imagined that, they of all people, would seek it for themselves. Now, as I took stock of the place they had taken in Bath, I came to the belief that my sister indeed had come to like the finer things. If any woman deserves them, it is my sister, I reflected.
Her calling my name roused me from my abstraction. "What? I'm sorry, I was thinking about something else. What were you saying, Sophy?"
"I was saying that while I am gladder than I can express you are come, and you know that there is always a place here with us, I do wish you had acquainted me with your plans," she informed me. There was no rancor or pique in her voice, merely a statement.
This puzzled me. Perhaps I have outstripped the post. She must think me a parasite, and an unthinking one at that! I speculated. "I sent you a letter asking your hospitality for a while. Evidently it has not reached you as yet."
Sophy looked at me, as puzzled as I. "We received your letter. You told about a wedding that Edward had just done for a mutual friend, and that Catherine was well," she tilted her head, endeavoring to remember more. "Oh! And the news that your friend Captain Benwick and Miss Musgrove are to be married. Which I must say, was as welcome as any news could be. But there was no mention of you coming to Bath." She looked to me with amusement. It was obvious to my sister, I thought I had asked, but had simply forgotten.
"I would have sworn that I had asked about staying with you. Are you certain? Perhaps you are not remembering all," I said with frustration. I was distracted with other things as I wrote the letter, but surely, I could not have forgotten what was the chief reason for it, I thought.
Sophy laughed. "When I receive a letter from the brother I have had no word from for . . . four months, I am not likely to forget the contents of it. Admit it, dear--you forgot! You are human you know. Though, there are times you are loathe to admit the fact."
This estimation of my character surprised me. While I had been forced to admit that pride had kept me from Anne all these years, I was beginning to realise that it was a flaw that had crept into other areas of my life. Moreover, those closest to me were able to see it clearly, when it had all but blinded me to its presence.
"I am sorry, Sophy. I truly thought that I had begged your hospitality and that you would be prepared for me. I can remove myself to an inn if you are not willing to accommodate your errant brother," I said. From past experience, I knew there would be none of my going to an inn, but I knew that I should give her a gracious exit if she so wished.
Coming to me and taking my arm, she lead me down a generous hallway and said, "You know that I always have room for you, Frederick." At this, she began to smile a mysterious smile. "And now is no exception. The only difficulty is that the one bedchamber fit for habitation just now is rather . . . feminine." At this, she opened a door from the hallway, to a room which fairly exploded with various shades of pink, cream and white. All the prints and papers were roses. There was was, undoubltedly more lace per foot in this room than in the finest dress shops of Bath. I stood, somewhat shocked at the prospect of sleeping in a room which seemed more fitting a paramour than a captain of the Royal Navy. But, practicality dictated I accept the room with gladness. Endeavoring to hide my chagrin, I said to Sophy, "This room will be more than adequate. But tell me, how did you come to decide upon such a bold statement?"
She began laughing uproariously. "Frederick, you have become quite a diplomat! Admit it--you are terrified at the prospect of sleeping in all this frippery!" We entered the room and she went about opening the draperies. The sunlight only intensified the effect and my discomfort. "I was hoping to convince Edward to bring Catherine for a stay and I wished for her to have a beautiful room. We have been to visit them only once, but I could see that the rectory is functional at best and I am certain that there is not much money for extras. So, I determined that I would give her a room fit for a queen." She went about the room poofing and plumping. "Other than letters, and the one visit, she and I have not had an opportunity to know one another and I thought this might show that I wish our new sister welcome to the family."
I stood marveling at the sight and mused that the practical Catherine, with whom I had become acquainted, might find all this "frippery," as Sophy called it, a bit overboard. Though, I have observed that women who appear quite level and sensible, when in the company and influence of others, sometimes indulge in pure whimsy. Perhaps it has been a fond wish of Catherine's to be ensconced in lace and roses. I did voice my one question, "Were you not concerned that Edward might be a bit . . . ill at ease with so much femininity surrounding him? He is, after all your brother. Is his comfort not worth consideration?"
As she held up a cut-glass vase, admiring the light shining through, she said, "I dare say Edward has had his share of sleeping in locales where he is uncomfortable, it would not harm him to sleep in a room designed for his wife and her comfort. However, if it is very discomfiting, he is welcome to sleep in the hallway. As you can see, it is quite wide enough." Putting down the vase, she looked at me with that sly smile and eyes that fairly danced at the prospect of seeing Edward's face upon the opening of the door.
"So, shall I have your trunk sent here, or will fear drive you to an inn?"
Determining that I would not be driven away by some lace and frills, I said, "I am sure that this room will serve me just as well as any I might find at an inn. Who is to say, perhaps I will find roses and such finery to my liking," I told her with a smile. Before going to find the footman, she again put her arms about me and said, "Frederick, I am very glad you have come." Kissing me upon the cheek, she turned and left me to the Room of the Roses.
After I had unpacked my trunk, having taken great pains to leave my uniforms in prominent places to remind myself of more manly strivings, I sought out Sophy. She had a generous tea awaiting me, which I confess was quite welcome after the fare which I had taken on the road. We talked of Edward and his parish. I told her of Joshua and Mrs. Lowell, or rather Mrs. Junkins. Talk then turned to Dr. Abernathy and his connexion to the Musgroves, which lead to conversation on James Benwick and Louisa. Sophy had quite strong opinions on the union, Miss Louisa's fall in Lyme and other incidentals. She even managed to broach the subject of my unbecoming behavior with the girl. I endured the appeal since I was imposing myself without an invitation or even warning on my part. I also endured because I deserved every bit of what she had for me.
When we were growing up, Sophy had watched out for me. In the last few years of our mother's life, she had been my major source of love, care and correction. The few times Father had caught me in wrong, the punishment was severe and unsparing. My sister had made every attempt to keep me from misdeeds and when she could not, she had done what she could to conceal the facts from our father. There were times when the only thing between me and a horribly violent man, was Sophy. So, when she had words for me concerning most matters of my character, I was wont to listen. For a few moments, I had been tempted to confess my reason for coming to Bath to my sister, knowing that her advice would be sound and in my best interest. I then thought better of it as I did not wish to bring disappointment if the scheme did not come off. I knew Sophy held Anne in high regard and would welcome her into the family with joy. But, if she was not inclined to renew our attachment, I wished there to be no idea of ill-use on Sophy's part towards her.
I saw nothing of the Admiral until evening. Sophy said that their usual habit was to walk out together, but this day she had been tied to the household accounts and other small concerns. She said that he was most likely distracted by the many acquaintances they seemed to meet wherever they went. "He will come home to dinner, a home cooked meal always seems to bring a sailor home," she said cheerfully.
She was correct. Home he came at nearly five o'clock. While he was surprised to see me, he was not displeased. I was welcomed with his usual "Frederick! You old dog, you." Dinner was a bit uncomfortable. While Sophy had given her opinion on matters concerning Louisa and Benwick, the Admiral was inclined to ask questions. Some of them rather pointed. Most of them I chose not to answer or at the very least deflect away from myself. I think my sister took some perverse pleasure in seeing me scramble for answers which on the one hand, sounded adequate, but in actuality, were negligible.
After retiring to the sitting room, the remainder of the evening passed quietly. I was treated to gossip of those I knew and only knew of. The Admiral told of a recent meeting with Anne and her kindness in walking with him for a while. From this, I learned that she was aware I had no obligation to Louisa. She enquired as to my feelings about Benwick, and whether there was anger or feelings of ill-use. I wanted to believe her concerned on account of my feelings, but I decided that it was most likely her kind nature roused at the possibility of a breach. The remaining news was of the Crofts' mutual friends and acquaintances.
I watched them for the rest of the evening and could not help admiring my sister and brother-in-law. They were so at ease with one another and each seemed to know the other so well. There was no mistrust or doubt. Only time was able to build that, but the foundation was laid somewhere. I only hoped that I had the makings of such a footing.
As I lay here, recounting the day after retiring, I find myself hopeful in one thought and despairing in the next. One moment I wish madly to lay everything at Sophy's feet and the next I fear thinking on the matter at all. There one inescapable fact, I am in Bath--and so is Anne.