Chapter 4 – Confusions and Fond Farewells
On the day before the Stanwell sisters were due to leave for Lakeside, Anthea took her accustomed walk through the nearby fields at 8am, one hour before breakfast. Her walk was usually slow-paced – a time of quiet reflection – but this day Anthea strode up the small hill that was part of her daily course, breath frosting in the crisp morning as she tried to out-pace her thoughts.
Thoughts that were, of course, centred on Commander James Hayden.
No doubt he would be aware that she, too, was going to be a guest at Lakeside. Did he feel anything at such knowledge? Anthea swerved around a surprised cow, her pace quickening through the dewy grass. How was she to act on meeting him again? Politely and calmly, of course. There could be no other way. She imagined the scene. Commander Hayden bowing, unchanged in her mind from three years ago with dark hair swept forward a la Brutus and his blue eyes warm. He would claim previous acquaintanceship with that smile on his face, the one that had always brought her own smile so readily. And she would curtsey, all elegant acknowledgement and indifference. “How pleasant to meet you again,” she would say. Yes, that would do just fine.
She stumbled, the sodden hem of her gown catching awkwardly against her legs. Another image sprang forward, of blue eyes with more heat in them than friendship, and the press of his hand against hers as they danced.
Anthea stopped at the top of the hill, breathing hard. She barely noted the beauty of the undulating fields below or the trees with their golden turn of leaves. What if he did not remember her at all? Perhaps she had imagined his regard. Foolishly built up the kindness and good manners of a gentleman into something more meaningful. Anthea shook her head. No! Yet she could not be sure. All her memories were clouded by the fact that as Hayden had left Town, the news of her father’s death had arrived. Such a painful time. She had cut short her Season and returned home, her anguish at her father’s death compounded by the unanswered questions about Hayden’s abrupt departure.
Her treacherous mind rose again: what if he still held her in regard? What if his past behaviour had a true and honourable reason behind it? His naval career. Or maybe a family reason. Anthea balled her hands and pressed them to her eyes. How many times had she sought some clue other than the terrible idea that he had found something wanting within her? Too many!
She took a deep breath, the cold air aching through her chest. Such imaginings and memories were useless. Harmful, even. She had agreed to attend this house party – for Lily’s sake as much as her own – and she would just have to find a way to exist comfortably at Lakeside alongside Commander Hayden.
Pleased at such a firm, and noble, decision, Anthea started walking again. She cut across the hill, heading to the road below, the momentum of the slope pushing her into a very unladylike and cathartic run. Blood pounded into her cold hands and feet, the stretch of her limbs shifting Commander Hayden from her thoughts.
Movement ahead caught her eye. A dark clad figure.
Anthea was aware that her practice of taking a constitutional every morning was generally known in the neighbourhood, and that some society was mildly shocked by her venturing out alone, without even the protection of a servant. She had always laughed it off, but now, as she saw the figure approaching – male and with some kind of purpose aimed at herself – she felt a chill of unease. She slowed.
The figure hurried closer.
Recognition came with a small groan.
A glance over her shoulder confirmed that she was too far down the hill to turn back and pretend that this was not her direction.
Drat the man. Adjusting her bonnet, she continued sedately across the shallow ditch that separated field from road.
“Miss Stanwell.” Mr Pitwater drew up before her and bowed. Sweat had gathered along the folds of his jowls and above his top lip. “How do you do?”
Anthea dipped into a curtsey. “Mr Pitwater. Thank you, I am well.”
“This is a most serendipitous meeting.” Each word was interspersed with a wheezing breath. He took out a large kerchief and mopped his brow. “I was particularly wishing to speak to you alone before you left for Lakeside.”
A terrible foreboding momentarily robbed Anthea of her voice. Good grief, the man was going to propose. On the side of a road. She cleared her throat. “I am on my way home, sir. My mother is expecting me shortly.”
“Then allow me to escort you,” he said.
“I would not wish to put you to any inconvenience, Mr Pitwater.”
“Not at all. It would be my honour to render such a small service.”
She could not, with any courtesy, get rid of him. Biting her lip, she started to walk. He fell in beside her, skipping a few steps to match her quicker stride.
“This is perhaps, a little irregular,” he started.
“Indeed,” Anthea said, jumping on the admission.
“But I am sure you will understand once I have explained myself.” He smiled, taking another double step as she accelerated into a march. “I would be so bold as to say that we are friends. Are we not, Miss Stanwell?”
Perhaps she could outrun him. The absurd image of Mr Pitwater trailing behind her as she sprinted up the road ignited her quick sense of the ridiculousness. She smothered a smile.
“Yes,” Mr Pitwater puffed. “I see that you agree.”
Oh no, he had mistaken her smile for encouragement. She bowed her head and stared at the passing rush of road beneath her feet. Perhaps if she did not look at him again, he would desist.
“I would ask of you a great favour,” Mr Pitwater said.
“Really, sir, this is hardly the time or place.”
“Please, Miss Stanwell, hear me out!”
Anthea slowed. “Do you not think you should be petitioning my mother, sir?” she said desperately. Surely mother would deflect him.
“But she is not going to Lakeside.”
Anthea stopped and stared at him. “I beg your pardon?”
He stopped beside her and reached into his coat pocket, pulling out a sealed letter. “The vicar at Lord Rydges estate has sadly passed away, and the church there finds itself without a spiritual leader. It is a large, well-endowed parish, Miss Stanwell, and one that needs a man of experience. I feel that it is my calling to offer my services to Lord Rydges. I was hoping you could carry my letter and…” he paused, mopping at his lips, “…perhaps, for the sake of our friendship, recommend me to His Lordship?” He smiled obsequiously.
“You wish me to carry a letter to Lord Rydges?” Anthea asked, torn between relief that he was not proposing, embarrassment at her own assumption, and horror at the impropriety of his request.
“Yes,” Mr Pitwater urged. “For such good friends – friends with our understanding – it cannot be of any matter.”
“What understanding, sir?” Anthea asked bluntly.
“Well, I mean…well…” Mr Pitwater stammered. With enormous effort he collected himself, straightening into his full five foot, six inches. “I intend to marry in the next three years or so, Miss Stanwell,” he said with an unfortunate spray of earnest spittle. “I have decided that we would do well together. Once you are older, and with my guidance, I am sure you will cast off your excessive levity and find the dignity required for the companion of a clergyman. It would serve all round, I think. For your poor, dear mother and sister as well. I have a good livelihood, Miss Stanwell. Perhaps an even better livelihood if you would do me this small service. As you see, it will be in your own interest.”
Cast off her levity? Find more dignity? For a moment, Anthea was outraged into silence.
“Sir,” she finally managed. “Do you think that I could accept a letter from a gentleman not related to me?” She drew herself up. “Do you think that, as a guest of Lord Rydges, I could present a letter of business to him, and recommend you regarding a situation so totally out of my sphere?”
Mr Pitwater shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. “Well, it is quite expensive to send it by post.”
That nearly sent Anthea into an unbecoming snort of laughter – her unfortunate excess of levity again – but she hung on to her outrage.
“I am sorry, Mr Pitwater. I cannot oblige you.”
He frowned. “Is it such a great thing I ask, Miss Stanwell, especially now that we have spoken of the future.”
Anthea took a deep breath. She had to end this presumption that she would, at any time, accept him. It was best for all concerned. Yet she did not like to cause hurt to anyone – even Mr Pitwater – and a tiny, traitorous part of her was whispering, what if his was the last interest she would ever have? What if he was right and she had too much levity and too little dignity. Or even worse, what if it had been such a flaw in her character that had sent Commander Hayden away?
Anthea lifted her chin. “Mr Pitwater,” she said firmly. “Thank you for the honour of your interest. However, I do not think our friendship extends as far as you think. In fact, I am certain of it. There is no understanding between us. And there never will be.”
He gaped at her. “Think what you are giving up!”
“I have, sir,” Anthea said. “I believe I should continue on alone.” And with a very dignified curtsey, she made good her escape.
“Hurry up, Anthea!” Lily called up from the bottom of the stairs. She was tying her new bonnet, the navy blue ribbons elegantly matching the rich velvet of her new pelisse.
“Yes, I am coming,” Anthea said. “Let me just check the room one last time.”
“You have already done so. Twice!” Lily grumbled.
Anthea walked back to the doorway of their shared bed chamber and gave one last glance around the neat, sparsely furnished room – nothing obvious had been left out of their trunks. She closed the door, pausing with her hand on the latch; when she walked out of the house and boarded that waiting coach, there could be no turning back. She would see Commander Hayden again, come what may. With a sigh, she descended the stairs.
“Thomas says the horses will get cold,” Lily chivvied.
“I am ready,” Anthea said, tying her own sage green ribbons.
Outside, Mrs Stanwell was supervising Thomas as he strapped on Anthea’s trunk to the roof of the Qantas-Link’s handsome travelling coach. As promised, Thomas was to accompany Anthea and Lily on the ten-hour journey to Lakeside. Mrs Stanwell turned as the girls approached.
“Did you pack that extra pair of gloves?” she asked Anthea anxiously.
“And you must write to me every day.”
“We will,” Lily said. “We will keep you up-to-date with all the gossip.”
“That is not what I meant,” Mrs Stanwell said, but she smiled. “Remember to do as Lady Rydges bids. And the vails are to be given to those servants assigned to you at the end of your stay. Not before. Do you have the money safe?”
Anthea kissed her mother’s soft cheek. “Of course.
Mrs Stanwell returned the kiss and then bestowed one upon Lily. “I am so pleased you both have this opportunity,” she said, “but I don’t know what I will do without you.”
Anthea hugged her mother. “I am sorry to be leaving you here alone to bear Mr Pitwater’s pique. I fear he is very aggrieved.”
“He will hardly say anything to me about it,” Mrs Stanwell said.
“Nor to anyone else, for that matter,” Lily said. “Do forget him and his presumptions, Anthea. We are off on an adventure!”
Anthea smiled. “Indeed we are."
She took Thomas’s proffered hand up on to the coach step and into the cabin. The well-sprung vehicle swayed as she turned and sat, facing forward, in the red and green striped silk interior. Lily hugged their mother once more and then climbed aboard, taking the seat beside Anthea as Thomas leaned in and placed their large basket of food on the seat opposite. Mrs Qantas-Link had made them promise not to rely on the food available at the posting-houses along the way.
“All set, Miss,” Thomas said to Anthea with a dip of his head. “You just give the word when you are ready.”
“Thank you, Thomas.”
“Farewell, girls,” Mrs Stanwell called. “Be good.”
“We will be back before you know it, Mama,” Anthea said. She blew her a last kiss then called out the order. “Drive on.”
Both girls waved from Anthea’s window as the coach lurched into motion.
“Here we go!” Lily said, catching Anthea’s hand in a tight squeeze.
Anthea returned the squeeze. Lily’s excitement was so contagious that, for a moment, Anthea could almost forget what lay ahead: the man who had broken her heart.
Next time: Lakeside!
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.