Chapter 8 – A song, a ride and a revelation
“I am very much looking forward to hearing you sing after dinner, Miss Stanwell,” Mr Edgecombe said, taking the offered dish of almond syllabub from Anthea’s hands. “And, of course,” he added with a swift glance across the table at Lily, his colour heightened, “your sister on the pianoforte.”
Anthea hid a smile. Lily had an ardent admirer, and she could see that her sister was also very aware of Mr Edgecombe, her face slightly turned towards him as she listened to Mrs Tunbridge’s conversation. It was too bad that Lady Rydges had once again dictated the dinner seating arrangements, separating the vicar from Lily. Not to mention directing Commander Hayden to sit between Lady Charlotte and Mrs Hanes.
“Yes, Lily is always worth listening to,” Anthea said blandly. “However, I would not wish you to place too much anticipation on my performance. I have not sung in company for a long while.”
It was not false modesty; Anthea was deathly concerned about the evening concert. Lady Rydges, on hearing of the Misses Stanwell’s agreement to perform, had taken the unusual step of requesting a song – Waters of Elle – that was currently popular but which Anthea had never sung before. The musical sheets were supplied in due course and the drawing room pianoforte offered for rehearsal. However, Anthea and Lily only had time to practice for half an hour before Lady Rydges called them to the morning room for a dance lesson. Their hostess had organised a French master to teach all the ladies the newest steps – a generous thought, Anthea conceded – but it still had not allowed her enough time to come to any peace with the song.
Mr Edgecombe smiled warmly. “I am sure you are mistaken in your ability, Miss Stanwell. Miss Lily assures me that you have a wonderful voice.”
Anthea observed the vicar’s gentle face. He was such a kind young man, yet kindness was a virtue that many girls overlooked in a man. Anthea was glad that Lily seemed to understand the value of it. Could there be a match there? Anthea pulled herself up – the two had just met. Let her not turn in to one of those who only thought of matches and marriage.
“Mr Edgecombe, did you also hunt today?” Lady Davinia’s dreamy voice asked the vicar. With a regretful glance at Anthea, he turned to answer the question.
Since her other dining partner, Miss Tait, was engaged in conversation with Lord Dansworth, Anthea applied herself to the fresh pear on her plate, carving slices from the golden fruit and ignoring the rich offering of pastries that she knew would clog her throat. For a moment she watched Commander Hayden across the table. He was engaged in describing a sea battle to Charlotte, the condiments acting as ships and the large bowl of fresh fruit apparently representing France. She picked up another piece of pear then dropped it back on to her plate, unable to eat. The Commander was particularly fond of music – they had even once sung together at a small party of friends and family– and Anthea was sick to the stomach to think of the mess she was about to make of this new song. In front of him.
“This evening ladies and gentlemen will repair to the drawing room to enjoy the little concert that Lady Charlotte has organised for our pleasure,” Lady Rydges said, rising from her chair. “We will take early coffee, Philips.”
Anthea stood up, trying to ignore a sudden moment of dizziness. It would not be long now before she must face her humiliation – she and Lily were second on the program, after Miss Tait’s turn on the harp.
“Miss Stanwell.” Lord Dansworth was at her side, offering his arm. “May I escort you across to the drawing room?”
She hesitated – Commander Hayden had also circled the table, seemingly intent on reaching her side. He had now stopped, watching them.
Anthea nodded. “Thank you, my lord.”
Her hand, although laid lightly upon Dansworth’s arm, still felt the hard moulding of muscle. She was beginning to disbelieve Bernice’s report of Lord Dansworth’s dissipation. They walked out of the dining room, Anthea very aware of the Commander close behind them.
“You are a little pale, Miss Stanwell. Are you well?” Lord Dansworth asked.
“Yes, very well,” she said stiffly.
He raised an eyebrow. “Come now, you can tell me what is wrong. We are book friends, are we not?”
Anthea smiled wryly. “I have performance nerves, my lord. This is not a song I know well. I fear I will forget the words.”
“Ahh,” he said softly. “Then perhaps some elegant whistling?”
The absurdity of it made her laugh. He joined her, the sound echoing in the huge foyer. Their combined amusement brought the attention of Lady Rydges upon them.
“What makes you laugh so, Dansworth?” she demanded. “Allow us all to enjoy the joke.”
“No joke, mother,” Lord Dansworth said courteously. “Merely an enjoyment of the evening.”
The drawing room had been arranged into a small theatre – two rows of chairs placed before the pianoforte and harp. Even with Lord Dansworth’s reassuring presence in the next seat, Anthea felt her brief enjoyment of the evening disappear as Miss Tait made her way to her harp.
Before long, Anthea had to admit that Miss Tait played well. The lady did slightly ruin the effect of the ethereal music by casting languishing glances at Lord Dansworth, but otherwise her performance was exemplary. At the end, she received the applause with a smile that turned somewhat triumphant as Lord Dansworth rose from his chair and led her from her instrument to a seat by her chaperone.
Anthea clasped her hands together in her lap and caught Lily’s eye. It was their turn. Even Lily looked anxious.
“Courage,” Lord Dansworth murmured as she passed by him. She gave him a wan smile and followed her sister up to the pianoforte.
“You will be fine,” Lily whispered.
Darling Lily; she could play anything after just one sighting. Anthea knew she was not so gifted. She stood behind the piano stool and waited as her sister settled and positioned the music on the stand. Finally, Lily looked up at Anthea, the question in her eyes. Anthea nodded. Lily leant into the keys, the music swelling into the first verse. Anthea sang, her voice clear and strong.
“Waters of Elle
Thy limpid streams are flowing
Smooth and untroubled
O’er the flowery vale –“
Anthea’s mind went blank. What was the next line? She looked wildly at the sheet music but Lily had not turned the page. How many lines had she already missed? Lily’s fingering faltered. At the corner of her eye, Anthea caught the embarrassed shifting of the audience on their chairs and heard a titter of laughter, the high tone unmistakably Miss Tait’s. For a mad moment, Anthea wanted to run.
“Once more the wild rose blowing,” a male voice rang out. “Greets the young spring.”
Anthea knew that tenor: Commander Hayden. He stood up, still singing, oblivious to the startled exclamations around him. Anthea met his eyes – the encouragement within them calming her panic – and her heart soared with gratitude.
She recognised his lead in to the chorus and joined him, their voices melding together.
“Waters of Elle,” they sang. “Send of thy passing days.”
Anthea kept her eyes fixed on Commander Hayden’s as they launched in to the final verses, the song ending on the sweet sound of their harmony.
Lord Dansworth led the applause with Lady Charlotte, Mr Edgecombe and Lord Rydges joining his enthusiasm. Anthea glanced down at Lily.
“Thank you,” she whispered to her sister.
“It is not I you must thank,” Lily said pointedly. “This is all rather exciting, isn’t it?”
Anthea felt she could have done without such excitement.
Lord Dansworth strode up to the pianoforte and with a bow to Lily, took Anthea’s hand and led her back to the chairs.
“Do you bring out the hero in all the men you meet, Miss Stanwell?” he asked softly as they approached the Commander. “Well done, Hayden,” he said. “You also have a fine voice.”
“It is always a pleasure to sing with Miss Stanwell,” the Commander said bowing to Anthea.
“Thank you, Commander,” Anthea said, pushing as much feeling into the words as she could within the bounds of propriety.
He looked at her for a long moment, the rawness in his eyes suddenly disappearing behind a polite smile. “Not at all. Think nothing of it.”
Anthea felt herself colour. There was a dismissal within his words that she felt as surely as if he had turned away.
“I did not know that song was a duet,” Miss Tait said snidely.
Lady Charlotte motioned to a footman to bring Anthea a cup of coffee. “But how charming it is when sung with two such suited voices,” she said. “Don’t you agree, Miss Tait?”
“Charming,” that lady echoed sullenly.
“I believe Miss Lily has a selection for us now,” Mr Edgecombe said, gently calling everyone to order.
Anthea looked in the mirror, admiring the clean lines of the navy blue riding habit that Sally had adjusted. The girl had done a marvellous job fitting it to her figure.
“That really does look very well on you,” Lily said from her position lolling on the bed. “Sally, give her the shako, I want to see it on.”
Anthea took the tall hat from Sally’s hands and placed it on her tightly braided coiffure.
“Miss, you look lovely,” Sally said, hurrying over to straighten a pleat at the back of the gown.
“All thanks to you, Sally,” Anthea said.
“I shall write to mother while you are riding,” Lily said, propping herself up on her elbows. “Maybe she will have some insight in to Commander Hayden’s behaviour. One minute he is so gallant, the next almost rude; it does not makes sense.”
Anthea picked up her gloves, preparing to go downstairs to meet Lord Dansworth. She had her own plans to discover the reason behind the Commander’s complexity. Before breakfast, she had made some enquiries about Lord Rydge’s daily habits and knew he would be in his library after nuncheon. She would request an audience and, if her nerve did not fail her, ask him about the Commander’s disappearance three years ago.
“And when you write to mother, will you be mentioning Mr Edgecombe too?” Anthea asked innocently.
She ducked at the cushion flung in her direction.
Lord Dansworth was already waiting out at the front of the house, holding the reins of a handsome chestnut. A groom held the reins of Persephone and a loose-boned bay.
“I am sorry to keep you waiting,” Anthea said. “Am I late?”
“Not at all,” Lord Dansworth said. He was attired in a well-fitted tan tailcoat and smooth leather breeches, his top boots blacked and buffed into a mirror-like shine. “Do you think you are up to a long ride?” he asked. “I should like to show you the boundaries of the estate?”
Anthea was soon mounted on Persephone. She deftly adjusted the position of her leg around the top pommel of the side-saddle and her foot in the stirrup, then arranged her gown over her feet, all the while surreptitiously watching Lord Dansworth mount his big chestnut hunter. A good seat, she noted then laughed at herself. According to Bernice, Lord Dansworth was a Corinthian – a very tulip of fashion and sportsman par excellence – so of course he would ride well.
As the groom mounted the third horse, Lord Dansworth allowed his hunter to sidle across the gravel. With a firm hand, he brought the horse around to stand beside the placid Persephone.
“That is a fine animal,” Anthea said, admiring the chestnut.
“His name is Pericles. Scott back there is on Perseus.”
“I am perceiving a pattern,” Anthea said.
Lord Dansworth grinned. “Perhaps.”
They laughed, and continued to laugh as each attempted to outdo the other with bad puns and word play on the sedate ride across the lawns. The groom kept a good distance back as they headed into the outer reaches of the estate, their conversation moving from books to theatre, their horses pacing beside one another. Anthea had only seen a few plays while in Town and was enthralled by Lord Dansworth’s description of seeing the great Edmund Kean in Hamlet.
“How I wish I could see him,” Anthea said. “Are you missing the excitement of Town?”
“Not at all,” he said. “I find that I am more weary of it these days.” He pointed to a long stone wall. “Do you see that border?”
“It is new. We are now riding on enclosed land. Are you aware of the enclosure laws, Miss Stanwell?”
Anthea nodded. “I live in an area where the common land was very important to the livelihoods of the small farmers, and now it is gone. It seems to me that a great deal of hardship has been created so that large landowners can take more land.” She stopped, suddenly aware that she was talking to the son and heir of one such landowner, and her host.
He lifted a gloved hand. “Do not be afraid to voice your opinion. I am glad to hear it. My father is a good landlord, Miss Stanwell. Yet this is one area where we do not agree. I understand his reasoning, but to take common land away from the people is to take away some of the heart of tradition and the bridge between master and tenant.” He looked across at her and laughed. “Your expression tells me that you are amazed a fribble like me has such political conviction.”
Anthea touched her treacherous face. “I…that is to say…” She gave up and laughed.
Lord Dansworth pulled Pericles up and looked out over the land. Anthea halted Persephone beside him. They were on the edge of a resting field, the turned earth rich and dark.
“I have been living a useless life, Miss Stanwell. Six years I have been in Town with my only purpose being pleasure and the satiation of my senses.”
He glanced across at her, but Anthea refused to be shocked. “It is not unusual for a man of your position,” she said.
“True. But a man without purpose is a lost man, don’t you agree?”
He nodded. “This is now my purpose.” His arm arced across the huge expanse of land before them. “One day Lakeside will be mine and I want it to prosper. Of course, I do not wish to inherit from my father any time soon, but when I do it will be a good, useful life – a large estate to manage with tenants depending upon its prosperity. Depending upon me.” He turned to Anthea, a glimmer of a smile on his lips. “With, of course, a Town season each year for the theatre.”
“It sounds…very useful,” Anthea said.
“And do you approve of my new useful life?”
Anthea hesitated, her heart quickening. “It is not my place to approve or disapprove, my lord.”
He observed her gravely. “True, but I will ask the question again in due course. Perhaps you will then feel that it will be your place to answer.” He straightened in the saddle. “Shall we have a gallop?”
He urged his horse forward, leaving Anthea to stare after him.
Amongst all the ladies at nuncheon, only one gentleman came to table: Mr Edgecombe. The other men had all become involved in the set-up of a fireworks display that Lord Rydges had commissioned for the ladies enjoyment that evening.
The gathering was unusually quiet. Only Lily and Mr Edgecombe conversed, all the other ladies seemed preoccupied by their own thoughts.
“Do eat something, Anthea,” Lily urged mid-way through the cold repast. “Dinner will be late because of the show.”
Anthea poked her fork at a piece of shaved ham on her plate, her mind still reliving the ride. Was Lord Dansworth playing with her, as Lady Charlotte had warned? Surely she would know her brother. Yet his attitude and expression had held all the markings of sincerity. Indeed, if he was playing, his acting skills were as great as Edmund Kean. Anthea sighed. It was a question of trust. Did she believe in the essential goodness of people? Or did she look for the worst in her fellow man? She swirled the fork through the dressed bean salad. It would be a sorry life to forever distrust all and sundry. No, she would take Lord Dansworth at his word. And that opened up an even more perplexing situation – his final words at the enclosure fence had hinted at more than friendship. She felt a small thrill at the thought. It was immeasurably flattering to be singled out by Lord Dansworth. If that is what it was.
She turned her thoughts resolutely to Lord Rydges. How best to tackle that situation? She could not ask him directly what had happened – good manners forbad such an interrogation of one’s host. Perhaps she could mention the ball that the Rydges had held three years ago. She stabbed at the pickled cucumber. It was not a strong lead into the subject, but perhaps it would do.
She did not have a chance to try her strategy until late in the afternoon. Twice she begged pardon and left the other ladies working on their sewing to knock on Lord Rydges study door, only to receive no answer. On her third try, his voice called “Come.”
Anthea took a deep breath and opened the door. Lord Rydges was seated behind a huge mahogany desk, the walls around him lined from ceiling to floor with shelves of books. He looked up from studying a ledger as she entered and curtsied.
“Miss Stanwell,” he said, rising from his chair and bowing.
“I fear I am disturbing you, my lord.”
“Not at all.” He straightened as if bracing himself. “I have been expecting you. Lady Charlotte told me about your conversation.” He smiled conspiratorially. “My daughter is not one for subterfuge and suggested that an airing of a certain subject would be beneficial to us both.”
For a moment, Anthea was at a loss for words – all her careful plans and rehearsal were not needed.
Lord Rydges gestured to the wing-back chair set before the desk. “Please, take a seat.”
She sat as Lord Rydges settled back in his own chair.
“What my daughter does not know, Miss Stanwell, is that I am forbidden by law to tell you about the events of three years ago.”
“Oh.” Anthea slumped back against the brocade cushions.
Lord Rydges rested his elbows on the desk and steepled his fingers. “Instead, allow me to tell you a story. A fiction, with a hero and heroine. All good stories require them, do they not?” He raised his eyebrows, his eyes fixed on hers.
“Yes, my lord.” Anthea nodded slowly.
“This story is set in a time of war with two old enemies locked in a twenty year struggle. It had brought great hardship to our hero's land and cost many lives as they fought a self-styled emperor. Then one day, the hero, let’s call him James –”
Anthea pressed her hands together. James was Commander Hayden’s first name.
“– James was a sailor who met a young lady with whom he formed a strong attachment. Let us call her Anthea, the heroine of our story. James also had an old friend who was a highly placed military officer. A lord of his land. This lord was part of a group that dealt in the less obvious ways of warfare, and he was looking for a man with particular skills –seafaring amongst them – to take on a mission behind enemy lines. If the mission were successful, it would shorten the war and save many lives. However, it would require terrible things to be done, and there was no expectation of return.”
Anthea closed her eyes.
“I see that you jump ahead me,” Lord Rydges said. “Yes, James, our hero, was asked to take on the mission, and with it the need to disappear completely from his old life and become someone else. It was not an easy decision for him – if that is any consolation to the heroine – but he was a man of honour and felt it was his duty.”
Lord Rydges stopped.
Anthea opened her eyes. “He came back,” she said.
“But he did not look for the heroine again.”
“No.” Lord Rydges rubbed his hands down his face. “What do you think happens to a man of deep honour when he does dishonourable things – terrible things – in the name of his country?” Lord Rydges shook his head. “No. That is not a fair question. How could you know?”
“What happens, my lord?”
“A rift in the deepest part of him. His soul, if you like.”
Anthea pressed her fingers under her eyes. How strange: she had started to weep and had not noticed. “I see,” she said. “And what is the end to this story?”
“I don’t know,” Lord Rydges said.
Anthea could hear her pulse pounding in her ears. “Neither do I.” She stood, a terrible rage rising through her body – anger at the war, the Commander, fate, but most of all, at the man seated before her. “I think the lord in this story may have destroyed his friend,” she said, every word clipped. “I hope it was worth it.”
Lord Rydges flinched. “The mission was a success.”
With exact deference, Anthea curtsied, and walked from the room.
Next Time: Hope and heartbreak
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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.