Chapter 10 – Before the ball
“May I escort you to the display?” Commander Hayden asked with a bow.
Across the drawing room, Anthea heard a loud click of irritation coming from Lady Rydges. Their hostess, it seemed, had another partner in mind for the Commander to escort to the fireworks in the gardens.
Ignoring the narrow-eyed glare of that lady, Anthea slipped her hand into the crook of the Commander’s elbow. “Thank you.”
Anthea was sure he would be able to feel the hard beat of her heart through her fingertips. It seemed to be in every part of her body. She dared not look up at him in case he would see through her veneer of calm. For a moment she remembered the touch of his hand around her wrist, the longing in his eyes as he had held her away.
She felt the weight of another gaze upon her, knowing even before she looked around that it was Lord Dansworth. He smiled at her, his sweet hesitancy bringing a swift answer to her own lips. His eyes cut to the Commander beside her, the smile gone. Anthea finally looked up at her escort. Hayden was returning Dansworth’s stare.
“Dansworth,” Lady Rydges said sharply. “Do please take Miss Tait out to the fireworks, and you Mr Edgecombe, escort Lady Davinia.”
“Shall we, Commander?” Anthea murmured, urging him out into the grand foyer.
“I am glad to have a moment to speak to you, Miss Stanwell,” the Commander said, his voice just as low as they crossed the huge hall.
Anthea looked up into his grave face.
“Did you receive my note?”
Anthea felt her skin flush. “Yes.”
“Can you…do you think you could ever do what I requested?”
He gave a short nod.
“I do not think my forgiveness is what truly matters, sir,” she said gently. “I know you cannot tell me what you did three years ago –” she paused, pushing away the dark images that her imagination had conjured since her conversation with Lord Rydges. They were formed from nightmares and novels and, for her own peace, she could not dwell on them. “Nevertheless, I trust that the man I knew acted as he thought he must, and because of that I forgive him. I also know that the man I knew is now being consumed by guilt. The forgiveness you need to seek is your own, Commander.”
She held her breath as he stared ahead, the line of his jaw tight. Had she gone too far?
“I am humbled to have your forgiveness so freely given, Miss Stanwell. I am afraid I am not so generous.” He looked at her sadly. “I do not have the advantage of not knowing what happened years ago.”
They crossed the threshold of the front door, the chill of the autumn evening air brushing against Anthea’s skin. She gathered her courage.
“Do you propose to make the guilt of that knowledge your constant companion for the rest of your life?” she asked. Bold words, but she was fighting for a man’s soul.
He did not answer for a moment as they descended the steps, but Anthea felt the tension in his body under her fingertips.
“I do not deserve to be free of it.” He gave a humourless laugh. “A savage mistress and cold bedfellow.” He winced, realising what he had said. “I beg your pardon, Miss Stanwell.”
She looked away, knowing her next words were not those of an innocent girl. “I hope that you can give up such a mistress, sir,” she said, her voice wavering. “Her price is too high and she stands in the way of your happiness.”
He did not react. They walked along the gravel drive in silence. Anthea glanced at his stern profile, the long scar a stark and ever-present reminder of his shame. Was he angry at her presumption? Disturbed by her worldliness? Well, she was not the same person she had been three years ago, either. She had lost her father, and lived with heartbreak. Ahead, chairs had been set up in two rows along the edge of a grassy slope, each seat draped with a rug. Two footmen stood at attention behind the makeshift theatre.
“I have a book of yours, Miss Stanwell,” the Commander said. “You lent it to me before I left and I did not have a chance to return it.”
Nonplussed by the change in subject, Anthea stared at him. “A book?”
“Lord Byron’s Childe Harold.”
She remembered now – she had given it to him the night before their last meeting. The poem had been all the rage the year before her season in Town. “Yes.”
“I took it with me. Everywhere,” he said, the last word holding a world of meaning. “I have it here, if you wish me to return it.”
She shook her head. “I would be glad for you to keep it.”
“Thank you.” He bowed. “I would not wish to lose it now.”
She looked across at him. “Is it so precious to you?”
“Eminently.” He gave a glimmer of a smile – the one she had known so long ago. “Although perhaps now I should view it as a cautionary tale rather then a Romantic epic.”
What did he mean? She thought back over Lord Byron’s famous work. Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage was the story of a man who could see the road to redemption, but could not find a way to walk upon it. Did the Commander mean that he would not be like the hero of the poem? That he would walk his path of redemption? She hoped so, for his sake.
They arrived at the chairs.
“I suggest we take these first two in the back,” the Commander said.
Anthea smiled, recalling the Town concerts they had attended, alongside her chaperone, and his whispered reasoning for aisle seats. It had become a small joke between them.
“I remember – in case we must escape poor musicianship and flat notes,” she said.
Commander Hayden laughed. “Alas, I am still a philistine,”
One of the footmen hurried over and lifted the rugs from their chosen chairs and, with a small bow, waited for them to settle.
Like Lily, Anthea had only ever seen fireworks once, long ago, and she was eager to relive the excitement. The others started to arrive and take their seats. With amusement and some satisfaction, Anthea watched Mr Edgecombe deftly manoeuvre himself to sit beside Lily. She saw Lord Dansworth take note of her position beside the Commander, his expression thoughtful as he led Miss Tait to a position in the front row. Anthea noticed him offering Miss Tait his own rug, a tiny thorn of disquiet lodging in her heart.
The first explosion made Anthea jump, the fright quickly superseded by wonder at the magnificent burst of bright colour in the sky. She turned her face up to the brilliant pink, blue and green stars soaring into the inky sky and arcing back to earth. Catherine Wheels spun and whizzed. Rockets sent jags of light high above, the pungent stink of gunpowder thick in the air. Anthea looked across at the Commander. He was looking at her, not the fireworks.
“You are not watching the glorious display, Commander,” she said.
“No, I am watching something far more glorious.”
Anthea quickly looked up again, hiding her confusion under the explosion of a huge flower of red sparks.
Next morning, Anthea woke from a restless sleep and stole out early into the park to walk and think. And once again, she found she was not alone. As she emerged from a hedged path – still no closer to clarifying her confused feelings towards the Commander and Dansworth – she saw Lady Charlotte, standing on the lawn. Charlotte’s tall figure was clad in an orange long-sleeved dress and a mismatched blue bonnet, with no spencer or pelisse. On such a frosty morning, too. She was calling something, over and over again, the urgent words becoming clearer as Anthea approached.
“Waverley! Come, boy! Waverley!"
Charlotte noticed her and waved, hurrying to meet halfway. She drew up, breathless. “Anthea, have you seen Waverley?”
Charlotte clasped her gloveless hands together, her fingers purple with cold. “He got out last night, frightened by the fireworks and has not come back for his food. He never misses his breakfast. Stephen is so worried. He has gone to look near the fields and some of the men have gone to search east.”
Anthea felt her own anxiety rise. “I have walked all around the demesne, and did not see him.”
“Will you come with me into the woods to look? We can go further together.”
“Of course,” Anthea said.
They headed towards the part of the park that had been kept wild, their progress leaving tracks through the wet grass. Anthea could feel the chilly dampness seeping through the seams of her half boots.
“You probably think us mad to be so worried about a dog,” Charlotte said.
“Not all. “I am very fond of him too.”
“I thought so. Stephen has told me about Waverley’s attachment to you.” Charlotte blew on her fingers then rubbed the together. There was something strangely hesitant in her manner. “Anthea,” she said slowly. “I have a confession to make.”
“A confession?” Anthea echoed.
“I think I may have done my brother a disservice.”
“What do you mean?”
“I warned you that Stephen likes to play with love, but in your case, I think I am wrong. It is now my belief that his intentions are serious. I have never seen him this way before. He cannot speak of anything but you, and there is a determination to him that I have not seen in a long while.”
Anthea felt heat rush to her face. "He speaks of me to you?"
“Yes. I would not presume to know your feelings, Anthea,” Charlotte continued. “All I can say is that the thought of calling you sister fills me with joy. And perhaps, if the friendship between Miss Lily and Mr Edgecombe continues, your own sister could end up living on the same estate. Would that not be a wonderful thing?”
“Mr Edgecombe is such a nice man. It would be a good match,” Anthea said, the affection and hope in Charlotte’s words touching her deeply. For a moment she saw a glorious vision of them all together, before the fire in the Lakeside drawing room, laughing, their lives meshed together in happiness.
They entered the woods, calling the dog every few moments, slipping and skidding over the wet autumn leaves as they made their way through the brush and trees. The smell of loam and decay rose at every step.
“I don’t think he is here,” Charlotte said hopelessly. She raised her voice even louder. “Waverley, come boy!”
It was Anthea who heard the whine.
“Over there,” she said, pushing through a dense patch of bracken.
The big dog was lying on his side, panting. A wound – some kind of clawing – had ripped the muscle in his back quarters. Anthea knelt beside him. “Steady boy,” she said. “Let me have a look.”
Waverley lifted his head then dropped it back on to the ground. His tail wagged once.
“Is it bad?” Charlotte asked. “Will you stay with him while I get Stephen?”
Charlotte left at a run, catching hold of branches and brush to steady her path. Anthea patted the dog, trying to calm his shivering. Probably shock as well as cold. She shifted forward and lifted his head and forequarters on to her lap, hoping her warmth would help. She took off her gloves – her hands would provide some warmth too. “There you go, Waverley. We are here now. Everything will be all right.” She kept up a croon of nonsense, stroking his head as the morning sun burned the grey clouds and chill away. Eventually, she heard the sounds of approach.
“Miss Stanwell?” Dansworth’s voice called.
“We are over here!”
He came into view – fair hair tousled, moleskins spattered with mud, one of the rugs from the night before in his hands. Her heart lifted at the sight of him. Beside him, Charlotte waved.
“He is all right, I think,” Anthea called, keeping a steadying hand on Waverley’s shoulder. The dog was trying to get up at the sound of his master’s voice, his tail wagging in limp bursts.
Dansworth knelt beside Anthea. “You are so kind to stay with him. Thank you.” He stroked Waverley’s shaggy head, his finger’s brushing against Anthea’s. The contact sent a thrill through Anthea and she saw it flare in his eyes too.
He turned his attention to the dog. “You big furry fool,” he said gently as Waverley tried to lick his hand. “What have you done to yourself?”
“I think it must have been those badgers we saw a while back,” Charlotte said.
Dansworth nodded and gave the wound a quick, efficient inspection. “No bites and the damage is not severe. A few stitches and some rest will repair the muscle,” he said, relief in his voice. He got to his feet and offered his hand. “If you will stand back, Miss Stanwell, I’ll pick him up.”
Anthea gently laid Waverley’s head on to the ground, and took Dansworth’s hand. He pulled her to her feet, holding her a moment longer than was strict propriety. “Waverley thanks you from the bottom of his heart.”
“Waverley and I are great friends,” she said, feeling a wave of heat through her body. “He stayed with me when I was distressed.”
Lord Dansworth smiled. “Yes. He would do anything for you.”
He bent and gathered the huge dog up in the rug, straightening with a soft grunt of effort. “You weigh a ton, old fellow,” he told Waverley. “We shall have to stop all those nuncheon leftovers.”
Anthea laughed, more from relief than anything.
Charlotte scooped up her forgotten gloves. “Don’t forget these.” She threaded her arm through Anthea’s and passed her the gloves. “I think Waverley owes Miss Stanwell a new pair of kid gloves, Stephen.”
“I’m sure that can be arranged,” Dansworth said. “And Waverley asks if Miss Stanwell would favour his master with the first dance at the ball tonight? Waverley is sure his master would like to thank Miss Stanwell properly.”
Charlotte giggled, her own relief obvious in the sound. “Waverley’s master is sorely mistaken if he thinks a dance with him is any thanks.”
Dansworth cast his sister a narrow look. “Waverley is wondering if he should bite Lady Charlotte.”
Anthea laughed. “Waverley does not need to resort to violence. Miss Stanwell would be delighted to dance with his master.”
At the sound of his name used so often, the dog wagged his tail, the long muddy appendage slapping again and again into his master’s face, much to the Charlotte’s amusement.
“I swear, Stephen, you are becoming positively mellow,” she said, her eyes finding Anthea’s in a knowing smile. “I shall go on ahead and make sure all is ready.”
“Excellent, we will be ably chaperoned by this hound,” Lord Dansworth said, finally catching hold of the recalcitrant tail. “Tell James at the stables that we will need to stitch,” he called after her as she hurried away. She waved an acknowledgement.
“Are you sure he will be all right?” Anthea asked, stroking the dog’s head.
“Yes,” Dansworth said, his expression serious. “I would not lie to you.”
And for a moment, not even the dog was present in the world between them.
The rescue of Waverley was repeated over and over again at breakfast, the heroism of the ladies applauded, and Waverley’s bravery at receiving his stitches rewarded with a place by the fire and a number of smuggled bacon rashers from the breakfast platter.
Lady Rydges, barely tolerating the huge dog in her breakfast room, inexorably turned the conversation to the ball that they were all due to attend that evening at the Gardiner-Garden's.
“Dansworth, you must lead out Miss Tait for the first dance,” she said, across the table from her son. “And Commander Hayden, would you be so kind as to take Lady Charlotte for the first.”
“Mother!” Charlotte hissed.
Dansworth placed his ale flute back on to the table. “Miss Stanwell has already favoured me with the first dance,” he said firmly. “And the second.”
The announcement brought quiet around the table. Miss Tait pressed her napkin to her mouth.
Anthea kept her eyes on the piece of toast she was buttering. Second dance? She did not recall being asked for the second, and it was tantamount to acknowledging an attachment. At the corner of her eye she saw the Commander’s hand clench around his own ale flute. She glanced questioningly across at Dansworth, but his attention was fixed on his mother.
“I see,” Lady Rydges said. Her long pale fingers drummed the damask tablecloth.
Dansworth bit into a piece of seed cake and chewed. Charlotte busied herself with a dish of braised mushrooms.
“It will be sad to see you go home after the ball, Miss Stanwell,” Lady Rydges said into the silence. She smiled frostily across the table. “And your sister.”
Charlotte dropped the top of the mushroom salver back with a clatter. “But Miss Stanwell and Miss Lily are to stay another week, mother.”
“Alas, no. Your father has been called back to town on business and so we must return at all speed. Our little party must end earlier than we expected.”
Lord Rydges looked up from his newspaper. In one long glance, a conversation occurred between husband and wife. He returned to his reading, his body stiff.
Lady Rydges favoured Miss Tait and the Commander with a smile. “I know you will soon be in Town too, so please do call.” Her gaze fell on Anthea. “Of course, if you ever manage to come to Town again, you are most welcome.”
Anthea doubted that very much. She looked across at Lily. Her sister’s face was stricken.
Dansworth eyed his mother. “I did not see a messenger come.”
“It must have been while you were fussing over that dog.” She took a sip from her coffee cup. “We shall, of course, put a carriage at your disposal tomorrow morning, Miss Stanwell, for the journey back to your little village. Miss Tait and Lady Davinia, I would be most happy to offer you a seat in my own barouche back to Town.”
“Thank you, Lady Rydges,” Miss Tait said. “That would be very agreeable.”
Lady Davinia looked around, obviously not following the conversation.
Lady Rydges motioned to a waiting footman, who immediately stepped forward and withdrew her chair as she stood. Without a backward glance, Lady Rydges walked from the silent room.
“It is not fair,” Lily said, for what must have been the fortieth time.
She had said it as they had walked the grounds after breakfast, as they had supervised the main packing of their trunks for departure the next day, through a subdued picnic nuncheon with Charlotte on the lawn, and now as they dressed for the Gardiner-Garden’s ball.
She paced across Anthea’s bedchamber, holding up the hem of her new sarcenet evening gown. In the evening candlelight, the pearls in her hair glowed with the same lustre as her pale skin and tragic eyes.
Anthea sighed, meeting Sally’s gaze in the reflection of the mirror. The maid smiled sympathetically and threaded another cream ribbon-rose into the back of Anthea’s elegant coronet of hair.
“We must accept it,” Anthea said.
“I cannot bear to leave him,” Lily said. “Oh, Anthea, what if he does not…what if I never see him again?” She turned to pace again. “Lord and Lady Rydges employ him!”
“Mr Edgecombe does like you an awful lot,” Sally offered. “I heard from Thomas who is doing for him.”
Lily swung around, her face alight. “Really?”
Sally nodded and looked back at Anthea. “And the young master is all for you, Miss Stanwell. There has been words, you know, between him and my lady.”
“What kind of words?” Lily asked.
“That is enough, Sally,” Anthea said.
The maid pressed her lips together and returned to work.
“But do you want Dansworth, Anthea?” Lily asked. “What about the Commander?”
Anthea clasped her hands together in the lap of her own new gown. “I don’t know Lily,” she said helplessly. “I just don’t know.”
“What if we leave tomorrow and never see them again. It is not fair,” Lily wailed.
Indeed, Anthea thought, staring at her own pale, stricken face in the mirror. It was not fair, at all.
Next Time: Winner of the Final Chapter competition! Posted on 15th April, 2012.
What will happen next? It could be up to you! Enter the Trust and Tribulation Final Chapter Writing Competition and write the ending to the serial in no more than 2,500 words. Perhaps something big happens at the ball. Or maybe Anthea returns to the village, thinking she has loved and lost again. Perhaps even more truth comes out about Commander Hayden or Lord Dansworth. Or maybe the final chapter jumps forward a year in time! There are as many ways to finish the story as there are writers. Have you got a great ending in mind for Anthea’s adventures? Check out the Competition Conditions of Entry below, and have some fun!
Competition Conditions of Entry
The competition is only open to those people who hold a season ticket (full or concession) to the 2012 Jane Austen Festival Australia
All entries to be:
· a maximum of 2,500 words.
· due by 5pm Thursday 5th April, 2012. Unfortunately no late entries will be accepted.
· typed, double-spaced and in either Word or RTF format. Also, I will be judging the entries without names attached in the interest of impartiality, so please include a cover sheet with the title of your “chapter”, your name and your contact phone number on it. Please also label each page of your actual entry with only your chapter title so that I can, at the end of judging, finally match up cover sheet to story. Remember to include page numbers too!
· emailed with the subject heading Regency Serial Competition. The heading is so that my assistant can print-off all the competition entries without me seeing who sent them. That means that if you know me, you can still enter as I will not see any name associated with any entry until I have made the final decision.
I will be contacting the winner on Tuesday 10th April, 2012.
The winning chapter will be posted on Monday 15th April – after the Jane Austen Festival – so stay tuned.
Visit Alison’s website at www.alisongoodman.com.au
© 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.