Chapter 7 – Accomplishments
After Lord Dansworth’s farewell, Anthea made her way indoors with a lingering sense of amusement from their conversation. She was about to ascend the grand staircase when a polite clearing of a throat from the drawing room doorway made her pause. She turned, her eyes falling upon Commander Hayden. All ease was suddenly gone.
He bowed. “Miss Stanwell.”
This was the Commander Hayden she remembered. Blues eyes warm, a hesitant smile, the tilt to the head that invited trust and confidence. There was, however, a new air of authority and strength that had only been hinted at in his younger self three years ago. And of course the scar: now that the shock of it was gone, she could see that the damage was not as great as she had thought.
She gathered her composure and curtsied. “Commander Hayden.”
“I remembered you favoured an early walk,” he said.
For just a moment, Anthea remembered holding his arm and laughing as they walked in Hyde Park.
“Yes,” Anthea said faintly. “I have just returned.”
He was dressed for the country in elegant top-boots, pale buckskins and a well fitted coat of brown superfine. The style suited his lean frame admirably.
“I do not want to detain you,” he said. “But I wished to say that if my presence here at Lakeside causes your distress in any way, I will remove myself at once.”
‘No,” she said, far too quickly. She took a breath and tried to temper the speed of her reply. “Please do not trouble yourself. I am fine.”
He bowed. “I am pleased to hear it.”
He turned as if to go.
“But I fear my presence was a surprise to you,” Anthea said hurriedly.
He gave a half-smile. “I don’t think anyone in the drawing room last night could have missed that.” All the wryness left his expression. “It was not an unpleasant surprise, Miss Stanwell.”
“I am glad,” Anthea said softly.
They both jumped as the butler approached, saying, “Commander Hayden, Lord Rydges asks that you join him in his study as soon as possible.”
The Commander nodded. “Thank you, Philips.”
He looked at Anthea and for a second she saw the truth in his eyes: I have missed you. He bowed and withdrew, following the butler across the foyer.
Anthea grabbed the balustrade for support, wondering if he had seen the truth in her eyes: I have missed you too.
By the time Anthea reached her bedchamber, she had found some equanimity again. She unlatched her bedchamber door to see both Sally and Lily waiting for her return.
Lily rose from her seat by the window. She was dressed in her own print day dress, the longer sleeve buttoned in for the morning, and her new lace chemisette modestly covering her décolleté. “Where have you been?” she demanded as Anthea closed the door.
“Walking in the demesne.” Anthea paused as Sally came forward and took her gloves. “I met Lord Dansworth.” She did not add that she had also met the Commander – it felt too soon and far too private.
Lily’s eyes widened. “Really? What is His Lordship like? Did he make love to you?”
“Don’t be a goose.” Anthea started to undo her spencer buttons. “We met by accident, and he offered to escort me. We talked about books. He is very pleasant.”
Lily rolled her eyes. “He is very pleasant,” she mimicked. “What does he look like? Is he dashing?”
Anthea cocked her head as Sally collected the spencer from her hands. Was Lord Dansworth dashing? She supposed he was in a quiet kind of way – there was a smoothness to him, a natural confidence that she had often seen in the titled. “I liked him, if that is any information. And he has asked me to ride with him tomorrow morning.”
Lily clapped her hands. “You have captivated a Lord!”
Anthea took off her bonnet and handed it to Sally. “It is only a ride, Lily.” She felt a sudden pall of guilt, as if riding with Lord Dansworth was some kind of betrayal of Commander Hayden.
“Oh, Miss!” Sally eyed Anthea’s flattened coif with disfavour. “Please, may I fix your hair before you go down?”
Anthea acquiesced and was soon seated in front of the dressing table mirror with Sally hard at work restoring her hair. Lily wandered the room, unusually pensive and silent.
“What is it, Lily?” Anthea finally asked.
Lily sat on the edge of the bed. “What will you do about Commander Hayden? It is obvious that there is something unsaid between you.”
Yes, Anthea thought, still unsaid. Yet so much spoken through a glance. She looked up at Sally’s reflection in the mirror and saw the girl’s avid interest. She frowned at Lily, trying to catch her eye. Sally was a dear girl, but Anthea did not want her business known throughout the house.
Lily met her sister’s dark look. “It’s all right, Anthea.” She smiled conspiratorially at Sally. “You won’t blab about us, will you?”
The girl shook her head and met Anthea’s eyes in the mirror. “I won’t Miss. I’ll not be much of a lady’s maid if the lady I serve can’t ever trust me. I’m good at keeping things to myself. I’ve got ten brothers and sisters.”
Anthea hesitated, but the desire to discuss her confusion with Lily before they faced the gentleman at breakfast was too much. “I just met him in the foyer,” she confessed, turning to her sister. “He asked if his presence in the house distressed me and offered to leave if it did.” She gave a quick account of what had passed between them.
“It is very gallant of him,” Lily said. “Do you think he still holds you in–“ her voice lowered, “regard?’
“I don’t know.” Anthea bowed her head. “How am I supposed to know his feelings or even my own?”
“But you still love him, don’t you?” Lily asked.
Anthea traced the bevelled edge of the dressing table with a fingertip. “I do not think he is the same man as he was three years ago. Yet, do any of us ever change that much? All I know is that I love the memory of the man I knew.”
“Then I know what you must do,” Lily said. “You can get to know the Commander again. See if there is enough of the same man whom you loved within this changed man. And if there is, he will love you again. You have not changed.”
Anthea smiled. “The wise one has spoken again.” She looked anxiously at her sister. “Do you think I should still ride with Lord Dansworth?”
Lily nodded. “Of course, don’t be foolish. As you said yourself, it is only a ride. And you do not owe the Commander anything other than your courtesy. For now, at least. Now, let’s go down to breakfast. I am famished.”
The breakfast room was a smaller chamber on the ground floor, handsomely furnished in pale yellow and blue and positioned to make the most of the morning light. Anthea and Lily entered the room to find Lady Rydges, Lady Davinia Miss Tait and the chaperones already in residence around the large oval table. The two younger ladies wore the new undress of white, long sleeved muslin gowns with Elizabethan ruffled collars. Lady Rydges was more formidably attired in purple silk. Anthea glanced at Lily. Their own pretty day-dresses and chemisettes were already out-of-date. Anthea shrugged off the difference. As her mother had said, they could not hope to have the same wardrobe as their hosts or fellow guests.
With courtesies duly exchanged, the sisters were seated, side-by-side and supplied with coffee and toast by the diligent footmen.
“Will you take some ham, Lily?” Anthea asked, spearing a few slices on to her own plate. There was an extraordinary array of meat on the table – ham, beef, mutton –as well as kippers, salmon, various breads and a large seed cake.
Lily shook her head. “No thank you. I will just have toast.”
“Miss Lily is a finicky eater,” Miss Tait announced to the table. “How I envy her such delicacy.”
“No, I am not finicky,” Lily said, bewildered. “I just do not eat meat in the mornings.”
“How singular,” Lady Rydges said.
At that moment, Lady Charlotte entered the room.
“Good morning,” she said to her mother and seated herself beside Anthea, smiling at greeting to all. Like Anthea and Lily, she wore a day-dress with a chemisette, and seemed oblivious to the pieces of straw clinging to her hem.
“Where have you been, Charlotte?” her mother demanded.
“In the stables. Stephen has routed all the gentlemen from their beds and they have just ridden out for a day of hunting. They will not be joining us for breakfast.”
The announcement produced a riffle of disappointment around the table, particularly with Miss Tait who visibly slumped. Anthea stared down at her plate, unsure of her own emotions. She had prepared herself to meet the Commander again, and so felt a sense of deflation. But she had to admit there was also relief. She needed more time to reflect upon her feelings.
Lady Rydges eyed her daughter. “I was not informed about this hunting party.”
“Father says it was a spur of the moment decision because of the clemency of the weather.’
Lady Rydges turned her offended authority towards the sunshine coming through the picture window. “They will hardly find anything to hunt this early in the season.”
Lady Charlotte helped herself to kippers, directing her conversation to Anthea.
“Stephen tells me you had a most entertaining walk together this morning, Miss Stanwell. He has asked me to lend you a habit for your ride tomorrow. I think I have just the outfit.”
She smiled at Anthea, apparently unaware of the effect her remarks were having on Miss Tait. That lady had forgotten that her cup was halfway to her mouth and was staring at Anthea.
“Did you walk with Lord Dansworth this morning, Miss Stanwell?” she asked. Her voice had a shrill edge.
“I did,” Anthea replied. “We met by accident and his lordship was kind enough to give me a tour of the gardens.”
Miss Tait snapped her cup back into its saucer.
Lady Rydges sniffed. “You ride, Miss Stanwell?”
“I do,” Anthea said. “My father taught us when we were children.” She glanced across at Lily who smiled at the shared memory. Their father had been a keen horseman.
Lady Charlotte chose a piece of seed cake and placed it on her plate. “We have much the same figure, Miss Stanwell, so my habit should fit you,” she continued. “Although I am over-tall and so you will have more train than gown.” This was said with a droll quirk of her eyebrows. “I will send it around to your room, and your girl can fit it to you before tomorrow morning.”
“That is very kind or you, Lady Charlotte.” Anthea hoped that the vail she had in her purse for Sally would cover refashioning an outfit overnight as well as daily attendance.
“Perhaps you will take a turn with me to the stables after breakfast and we can choose a horse for you.”
“That would be very pleasant.”
“I like to ride too,” Miss Tait said. “I have such an affinity with the animal kingdom.”
Anthea thought she heard Lady Charlotte choke back a snort. Perhaps it was a cough.
“I do not like to ride,” Lady Davinia said. “Horses are very smelly, and one is up so high.”
“It is a lovely day for a walk to the stables,” Miss Tait pressed.
Lady Charlotte bit into her seed cake.
Lily picked up a platter and offered it to Miss Tait. “Would you like some ham,” she asked into the heavy silence.
After breakfast, a footman arrived at Anthea’s bedchamber to deliver a riding habit made of fine navy blue wool and decorated at the front with ten gold frogged closures. Along with it came a matching tall shako hat with enough blue and green plumage, Lily giggled, to clothe a whole bird. Sally did not blanche at the request to hem the dress and adjust the width of the bodice, her face set with determination as she measured and pinned. Anthea apologised, but Sally shook her head.
“It is all right, Miss. This is what a real abigail does. It is good training.”
Lily offered to help, but Sally would not hear of it. “No, Miss, this is not work for a young lady like yourself.”
“It would be better than spending time with Miss Tait and Lady Davinia,” Lily muttered, leaving to collect her own workbag before setting off for the morning room where those ladies were already bent to their fancywork.
Although Anthea still felt uneasy about creating extra work, she left Sally to the task and found her way back to the grand foyer to meet Lady Charlotte for their tour of the stables.
“Does the habit suit your needs?’ Lady Charlotte asked as they walked out into the warm morning sunshine.
“It is very beautiful,” Anthea said. “Thank you so much, my lady.”
"Please, just call me Charlotte,” she said. “If I may call you Anthea.”
“Of course.” Anthea smiled her pleasure at such intimacy.
“Excellent. And I have decided you shall have the habit as a gift.”
Anthea was stunned into silence. “That is very generous of you Charlotte, but I cannot accept.”
“Of course you can. And I shall tell you why.” She paused as a groom walked past, dipping his head to them. “I feel as if I know you, Anthea,” she continued. “Yes, I know that sounds strange, but my father holds you in great esteem, and I value his opinion. After his visits to your family, he would come home and tell me about you and your sister. He especially admired your vivacity and musical accomplishments.”
“My musical accomplishments?” Anthea asked.
“Your singing,” Charlotte said. “And of course your sister’s skill on the pianoforte.”
Anthea nodded. “Lily is very talented. However, my singing does not do her playing justice.”
Charlotte brushed aside Anthea’s comment with a wave of her hand. “My father is most enthusiastic and has stated a desire to hear you both again,” she said. “I am putting together a small variety program for tonight, after dinner. Would you and your sister favour us with a song?”
Anthea hesitated. She had not practiced in a long time, but it would be churlish to refuse. “Of course. And I can answer for Lily. We would be very pleased to take part.” A folk song, perhaps. Or maybe Greensleeves. At least she would remember the words.
They walked through a long arched corridor made of stone, a glimpse of a cobbled courtyard at the end. The earthy smell of straw and dung announced the stables. All four sides of the yard were lined with stalls, but only a few horses looked out over their half-doors. Charlotte led her across the cobbles to a small grey that bobbed its head over its gate as they approached.
“This is Persephone,’ Charlotte said, rubbing the white blaze between the horse’s eyes. “She is a darling. I think she will be just the horse for you tomorrow.”
Anthea stroked the mare’s glossy neck. “She’s lovely.”
“And very good tempered, but she still has spark in her too,” Charlotte said. “Stephen seemed to think that you would appreciate a horse with some spirit.”
Anthea looked at her sharply. What did she mean by that?
Charlotte met her gaze. “May I be plain with you, Anthea? I love my brother dearly, but he does like to…” She paused, chewing on her lower lip. “I just want you to know that Stephen likes to play and his situation allows him to do so with impunity. I have seen it over and over again.”
“I am not –“
“I know,” Charlotte said hurriedly. “Of course not. My mother wants him to marry Miss Tait.” She grimaced. “I have already spent two weeks in Miss Tait’s company, as well as Lady Davinia’s, and I can say with certainty that Stephen will not marry either of them. Davinia is sweet, but a goose and Miss Tait is…well, if Davinia is a goose then Miss Tait is a stoat.”
“I know that is uncharitable, but you have not had to spend every day with them for the last fortnight.” She sighed. “Stephen likes bright girls, Anthea, who read widely, and run when they think no one is looking. I do not want you to be hurt.”
Lord Dansworth must have given his sister quite a full report of their walk, Anthea thought. She did not know whether to be flattered or concerned. “I am in no danger of being hurt.”
“Are you sure?” Charlotte’s good-humoured face was earnest. “Even by Commander Hayden.”
Anthea drew back.
Charlotte touched her arm. “Please, don’t be offended. I only mention him because all he does is mention you.”
“Yes, and mother was quite annoyed at dinner by his constant reference to you.” She leaned closer. “My father and I are great friends, Anthea, and sometimes he confides in me. When mother proposed a house party, father was adamant that you and your sister attend.”
“He is most kind–“
“No.” Charlotte halted Anthea’s courtesy with a raised hand. “He was also adamant that Commander Hayden be a guest.”
“He told me that there had been an unfortunate situation, three years ago, that was his fault, and he had to put it right.”
“What unfortunate situation?” Anthea’s mind raced: it was obvious it had something to do with Commander Hayden’s sudden departure.
Charlotte shook her head. “I don’t know. He would not say.”
“Do you not have any idea what he means?”
“No, although I surmise it is something to do with you.” Charlotte gave one last pat to Persephone. “I know my father, Anthea. He is an honourable man and this matter, whatever it is, troubles him deeply.” She hooked her arm through Anthea’s. “If my father has somehow caused you hurt, I hope you can find it within your heart to forgive him.”
Anthea turned her head, pretending to look back at Persephone. Forgiveness, she had always found, required some knowledge of the harm that had been perpetrated. Somehow she would have to find a way to ask Lord Rydges what had really happened three years ago. Then, perhaps, she could think about forgiveness.
Next Time: A Song, a Ride, and a Revelation
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© Alison Goodman 2012.
Alison Goodman holds the Intellectual Property rights to the Trust and Tribulation serial, but acknowledges the right of 2012 JAFA season ticket holders to make use of the characters and situations in the serial to fulfil the conditions of the competition.
Please also note that the use of brand names in the serial has been used in the spirit of fun and is not meant, in any way, as product placement. The author has, alas, not been offered any terrific freebies to use these names.